'Not too late' for river plan

Mayor creates group with community reps to oversee development

Sure, the high-rise condos along the Delaware River are either being built or are well along in development, and two giant casinos are vying to locate at water's edge.

But Mayor Street, who touted river development as one of the city's critical needs almost three years ago, says that despite the hot real estate market along the Delaware River, it's never too late to develop a master plan for the waterfront between Allegheny and Oregon avenues.

"We don't think the horse is out of the barn," Street said yesterday before signing an executive order creating the Central Delaware Advisory Group, a body heavily laden with community and business organizations.

"It's not too late for us to try to get our arms around it and create a vision for this area," said Street, who recently announced a similar planning effort for the city schools.

Street's order creates a body with at least 45 members, including representatives from 15 community groups along the river. He pledged that all meetings of the group and its nine-member steering committee will be open to the public.

The Advisory Group's final report should be ready a year from now in time for the final push before the 2007 municipal elections. Implementing the recommendations will fall to Street's successor.

Street wants to attract private foundation money to pay for the master plan, the chief consultant for which will be Penn Praxis, a non-profit unit of the University of Pennsylvania, working in tandem with the City Planning Commission.

"We believe a plan is necessary," Street said. "And we think a plan should be developed outside of developer interest and the more mundane factors that drive gaming, and there ought to be a group of people who are not politically driven and not motivated by anything other than the common good."

Street's executive order was a victory for City Councilman Frank DiCicco, who asked Street to consider a "transparent and inclusive" planning process last spring during a meeting with Gov. Rendell, State Sen. Vincent Fumo and the mayor.

"Developers are buying and building on the river like never before," DiCicco said during the announcement ceremony. "As each developer announces their plan, every community group along the river becomes more and more concerned. Traffic, parking, open space, public access, litter and public safety are of great concern."

Harris M. Steinberg, who heads Penn Praxis and is a faculty member at Penn's School of Design, said that he wants to create a plan "so compelling that the citizens of Philadelphia ratify this, that it transcends administrations and becomes the people's plan for the waterfront."

Unlike Street, Steinberg said the horse is "very much" out of the barn in some areas of the waterfront. Condos like the one near Spring Garden Street, a gated community, may or may not grant public access near the river. "If we can't get it, then we'll just have to go around," he said.

River's Edge Civic Association in the Old City area is one of the community groups that will sit on the Advisory Group. Andrew Sacksteder, association president, said Street's executive order is a "very favorable thing, very long in coming and as long as the implementation of the plan includes true legislative enforcement, a true mechanism to make it happen, then this will be successful, unlike the 1982 central waterfront plan."

Anne Dicker, a co-founder of Neighbors Allied for the Best Riverfront, said she was pleased her organization is also included in the new group, though she still has reservations about how transparent and open the process will be.

But Jeff Rush of the Old Swede's Court Homeowners Association, said the many community stakeholders will have "more of a say in what these areas will look like. It's what we'll leave to our children and grandchildren."