Bridesburg: Homes or factories?

Philadelphia City Council Bobby Henon plans to host a meeting tonight at the American Legion Hall, Salmon and Orthodox, starting at 6 p.m., to answer what his aide told me are "misunderstandings" about his plan to re-zone the polluted 67-acre former Philadelphia Coke industrial site on the Delaware River, from homes to factories.

Henon is a co-chair of Mayor Nutter's newly-created manufacturing task force, which is trying to lure factories back to the onetime "Workshop of the World," in partnership with the nonprofit Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., a partnership between the city and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce which has collected, financed and sold business parcels across the city for the past half-century.

"Councilman Henon has done a terrific job meeting with (industrial) businesses in that area that are seeking to expand," PIDC chief John Grady told me. "He's always looking for a way to bring jobs back into the neighborhood," and "he's taking a step back" and moving the "pendulum" back toward a mix of industrial and residential focus, after years of residential expansion and industrial withdarwal. He added that he's "not aware of" a particular user coveting the site -- but being able to market such a property, as at the Navy Yard, could draw new employers.

But some longtime Bridesburg residents aren't so welcoming. "I'm appalled" by the rezoning plan, Garden St. resident Dan Adair told me. "Bridesburg residents were not informed," he said. "The Bridesburg community has been trying for years to get away from the stigma of being the industrial wasteland of Philly. Not to embrace it back into the community." He calls Henon's meeting an attempt at "damage control."

Who would benefit from the rezoning? Henon's predecessor, Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, "took a lot of industrial property and lowered the grade," from G-2, general use, to L-3, residential, "when they were trying to bring high-end residential development to the waterfront," industrial landlord and broker Jerry Ziff told me.  "We just don't do that kind of heavy manufacturing here anymore." Neighboring Bensalem Township "did the same thing. They rezoned their waterfront to residential. It wa a really big hassle for us; we had to negotiate for (existing) industrial users. Their intentions are honorable. But I won't live long enough to see high-end residential built on that waterfront." Ziff is 66.

"Who's really causing this?" asked industrial property broker Frank Roddy. "PIDC is basically out of industrial land" and needs more favorable zoning, he noted. But "I haven't seen large users looking to be in the city or to get access to the river. I think that property is more logical as residential," especially since city tax policies and expenses still don't encourage companies to locate in Northeast Philly, with less costly suburban sites available in nearby Bensalem and Pennsauken.