On December 8, 1999 the Rules Committee of the City Council of Philadelphia passed Bill No. 990760
Bill No. 990760 rezones the privately owned properties on Venice Island, expect Smurfit-Stone, from industrial to residential. This was done to allow the developers to build up to 700 apartments entirely within the floodway of the Schuylkill River. The floodway is different from the floodplain in that during floods it will carry deep fast moving water. Not just overflow.
The City Planning Commission dismissed Philadelphia's own floodplain controls (ordinance 14-1606) by saying the they were forced to enact the controls by the Federal Government and that they should be interpreted differently than the way they were written. There position, also, was that a later ordinance (14-1802) allowed them any variance to 14-1606 so long as it didn't change the 100 year flood level. This interpretation is subject numerous objections.
All of Venice Island is separated from the mainland by only three two-lane bridges and a single one-lane bridge. There is no interconnection between these bridges. This limited access has the potential for a catastrophe during the next flood. There is a chance that residents could be swept down the river while trying to save their cars. The possibilities for disaster are too numerous to list.
This zoning overlay would allow over 250 apartment units in an area with access being only the two-lane bridge on Leverington Avenue. This is the only evacuation route for residents and their cars. This bridge is also the only access to Smurfit-Stone, a business that employs over 300 people. During the flood of September 16, 1999, trailers from Smurfit-Stone were carried around the island.
The proposed zoning will allow a total of over 700 apartment units on the island. Manayunk is the place to be these days and the developers are lining up. So are the cars! Residential use of the island may be very profitable to a few developers but it is the most dangerous and irresponsible use imaginable.
Manayunk Neighborhood Council and Friends of the Manayunk Canal testified in opposition to rezoning Venice Island. Our team was comprised of about 13 people, residents of Manayunk and environmental professionals. We waited from 9 A.M. till the bill came up at 2:30 P.M. Our testimony began after 5:00 P.M. and ended around 6:30 P.M. Council voted shortly thereafter.
Testimony in support of the zoning was given by the City Planning Commission, Dan Neducsin, the attorney for Dranoff, Kay Smith of Manayunk Development Corporation, and residents Ginger Restemeyer, and Ed Weiner. The City Planning Commission had on hand their lawyers and environmental expert.
Our professionals and residents gave absolutely remarkable and compelling testimony on why residential in the floodway was a very bad idea. Our group consisted of our attorney Stanley Krakower, Kathy Tomosky (Manayunk Neighborhood Council--MNC), Liz Turella (MNC), Sally Willig (Geologist), Darlene Messina (Friends of Manayunk Canal), Robin Mann (Sierra Club), Wendy Lathrop (Land Surveyor), Amy Chorey (East Falls Civic), Ernest Cohen (Engineer), Dotti Burner (Schuylkill Riverkeeper), Hal Shrimer (law student), Jane Glenn (MNC, Regional Citizens Committee of the Delaware Valley Planning Regional Planning Commission, and Kevin Smith (local resident).
Ours was the last bill of the day. Immediately after it they started taking votes on all the bills. David Cohen had voiced concerns during testimony that this was a complex issue being rushed through and that it had been presented as a simple zoning change when it was far more. He also questioned the reason for this ordinance change as there were adequate mechanisms in place through the zoning board process.
When the vote was taken, Cohen asked Nutter to retract the bill and resubmit it in the next session where it could be given due consideration. Nutter argued against this. Cohen asked him again a couple of times and he still refused. The vote was taken and only David Cohen voted against the bill.
Manayunk Neighborhood Council, Liz Turella, President, 215-482-4698
Friends of the Manayunk Canal, Darlene Messina, 215-483-9238
East Falls Civic Association, Amy Chorey, 215-438-1554
Hillside Civic Association, Carmella Dugan, 215-482-3918
Umbria Street Neighbors, Sue Syrnick, 215-483-7931
Residents of Shawmont Valley, Joe Walker, 215-487-2870
21st Ward Community Council, Ray Johnston, 215-482-9509
Councilman David Cohen, 215-686-3446
Councilman Frank Rizzo, 215-686-3440
Clean Air Council, Dennis Winters, 215-567-4004 x233
Clean Water Action, Bob Wendelgass, 215-640-8800
Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation, Chuck Marshall, 610-647-6432
Philadelphia Canoe Club, Richard Greene, 610-543-4690
Roxborough Green Space Project, Dan Hoffman, 215-482-3461
Schuylkill Riverkeeper, a field office of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network,
Chari Towne, Director, 610-469-6005
Sierra Club of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Robin Mann, 610-527-4598
Sustainable Society Action Project, Ernest Cohen Ph.D, 610-352-2689
Wendy Lathrop, Professional Land Surveyor and Planner, 610-667-3416
Hal Schirmer, Realtor, Taxpayer and Concerned Citizen
Sally Willig Ph.D, Geologist, 610-933-3539