By Member-Owner Matthew Goodro
Development on the 5000 block of Baltimore Ave. has become a hot topic in recent months and was the subject of a recent acronym-heavy community meeting co-hosted by the Baltimore Avenue Business Association (BABA) and Cedar Park Neighbors (CPN) and held at People’s Baptist Church (5039 Baltimore). The meeting was called to discuss competing proposals for four “blighted” parcels on the south side of Baltimore Ave. near the intersection of 51st St. There is clearly a huge amount of interest in the future of this stretch of Baltimore Ave, as demonstrated by the standing room-only crowd of well over 100 and the meeting was at times contentious.
There is a lot of uncertainty around what may or may not happen with the four properties at issue. One controversial and somewhat vague proposal made by the Baltimore Avenue Redevelopment Corporation (BARC) would have the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) use the power of eminent domain (the power of government to seize private property, under certain circumstances, for public use) to expand the Mercy Wellness Center (5008 Baltimore Ave.), and/or to perhaps build student housing. (There was not much enthusiasm expressed at the meeting for the prospect of student housing on the block.) It was reported, however, that there is no funding for this proposal, and so it is not being formally considered by the PRA at this point. PRA also says that it is open to receiving competing proposals, but has not yet received any. Owners of other properties on the block, meanwhile, expressed that there has been private interest in acquiring and developing the parcels, including by Greensgrow to build a garden center (one of the businesses residents expressed the most desire for in a recent survey conducted by CPN), but that the threat of eminent domain had always prevented any private development plans from going forward.
Greatly complicating the discussion was the city’s byzantine process for dealing with blighted properties and the fact that some key decision-makers, most notably Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, were not at the meeting. A number of people in attendance expressed the desire to engage the councilwoman on this issue.
It addition to the conversation about these four parcels, there is a broader issue over the City’s the process by which the City designates properties as blighted, the lack of community input in that process, and the difficulty in reversing a blighted designation once it’s been made. The 5000 and 5100 blocks of Baltimore were originally designated blighted and then were re-certified as blighted in 2005, which appears to keep open the threat of eminent domain. Now, it would take City Council passing an ordinance to un-blight them, even though there seems to be a lot of interest in developing them.
In short, the current situation is something of a mess. The good news, though, is that the community is very engaged.
If you’re interested in learning more (or perhaps becoming even more confused), there has been a lot of media coverage in recent weeks, including a couple of City Paper articles, one outlining the BARC proposal and response from local property owners and another reporting on the community meeting, and a post on West Philly Local, with responses from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority in the comments. FJAR will continue to monitor and participate in this discussion. Stayed tuned to the blog for updates!
City Paper, outlining the BARC proposal and responses: http://citypaper.net/article.php?How-a-blighted-block-in-West-Philly-has-become-a-battleground-for-competing-interests-18306
City Paper, reporting on the community meeting: http://citypaper.net/article.php?With-Blackwell-MIA-meeting-on-Baltimore-Ave.-lots-leaves-more-questions-than-answers-19452
West Philly Local, with responses from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority in the comments: http://www.westphillylocal.com/2014/01/31/after-meeting-future-of-the-5000-5100-blocks-of-baltimore-ave-still-unclear/