PhillyDeals: Bridesburg site touches off battle over residential vs. industrial use

Paul Wolfowitz has reportedly joined the board of a Bala Cynwyd company.
Paul Wolfowitz has reportedly joined the board of a Bala Cynwyd company. (J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / AP, File)
Posted: January 25, 2013

The polluted former Philadelphia Coke Co. site in Bridesburg shows the promise and challenges facing Mayor Nutter, Councilman Bobby Henon, and others who say they want to renew the city's historic but shrunken factory economy.

During the housing bubble, developer John Westrum hoped to build hundreds of houses on the Delaware River property. Henon's predecessor, Joan Krajewski, had it zoned for residential use. The houses didn't happen. Now Henon is pushing to have 68 acres zoned for industrial use again.

The city says it is not aware of an industry that wants the site. But John Grady, chief of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., a joint venture of the city and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, told me Henon has done a terrific job reaching out to nearby industries that might want to expand at some point.

Some Bridesburg neighbors aren't so welcoming. Dan Adair, a resident of Garden Street, said he was appalled at the rezoning. "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," Adair said.

Northeast Philly wasn't alone in being rezoned residential, says industrial landlord and broker Jerry Ziff. Not-so-distant Bensalem Township "did the same thing," said Ziff, forcing landlords to scramble to preserve industrial tenants' rights. Ziff, 66, is skeptical that builders will want the Bridesburg ground "while I'm alive."

"Who is really causing this?" asked industrial property broker Frank Roddy. PIDC is trying to replenish its industrial inventory, he noted. "I haven't seen large users looking to be in the city or to get access to the river," Roddy said. "I think that property is more logical as residential," especially as city tax policies and expenses still don't encourage industries to settle in Northeast Philly.

Heavy hitters

LaserLock Technologies Inc., a penny-stock, money-losing Bala Cynwyd "authentication" company that hopes to land U.S. agencies, drugmakers, and retailers as anti-counterfeiting clients, says it has added a string of Washington power brokers to its board.

Washington investor Michael Sonnenreich, who led a $4.2 million investment in the firm this month, is the board's new chairman. He says he has signed the following directors:

Paul Wolfowitz, who, as President George W. Bush's deputy defense secretary, helped direct the U.S. invasion of Iraq and later served as president of the World Bank.

Gen. Peter Pace (U.S. Marine Corps, retired), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2005 to '07.

Neil Alpert, LaserLock's president. He is a past president of lobbying firm Kiawah Group, an ex-Republican National Committee staffer, and a former campaign director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).  

Constance Harriman, a director of the Export-Import Bank and former assistant secretary of the Department of the Interior.

Walter Hauck 3d, a former Pfizer executive.

Jonathan Weinberger, executive vice president at vehicle-electronics developer Veedims, and a former U.S. Treasury Department staffer.

Sonnenreich says the company's vice chairman and past president, Norman Gardner, developed an ink based on rare-earth elements that has been used to distinguish authentic casino chips from fakes.

Sonnenreich said he had met the other directors through companies he has run and Washington-area charities, and hopes they'll help sign government clients. "I wasn't going to go into this unless I had some heavy hitters," he said.


Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, JoeD@phillynews.com, or follow @PhillyJoeD on Twitter.

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