2 blocks of Baltimore Ave.: Plenty of ideas, but no plans

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER A row of dilapidated buildings sits along the 5100 block of Baltimore Avenue.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER A row of dilapidated buildings sits along the 5100 block of Baltimore Avenue.
Posted: February 11, 2014

THERE'S BEEN a lot of talk - but not much agreement or action - on how to develop two blocks of Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia.

The blocks above 50th and 51st streets in the Cedar Park neighborhood have been the subject of two community meetings since November. The latest, a Jan. 30 gathering organized by the Cedar Park Neighbors group and the Baltimore Avenue Business Association, devolved into persistent disruptions and complaints, according to news reports.

Visions differ on what to open up on this stretch of Baltimore Avenue, which has two churches, a medical center and some shops. The blocks also are dotted with vacant lots, city-owned and privately owned parcels, many with structures in need of repair.

"We've been trying to plan for that area for many years," said City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. "We're waiting for clarity.

"There's no unanimity of opinion."

Cedar Park Neighbors worked with the Community Design Collaborative, which issued a 2010 design study for the area. A survey of Cedar Park residents, included in the study, showed that their top three choices were a supermarket, affordable housing and a community/youth center.

Greensgrow Farms, based in Kensington, approached Blackwell about opening up on the corridor, but she "was not able to offer us access to any of those lots," said Ryan Kuck, director of Greensgrow West Philadelphia.

Kuck isn't giving up and is looking at another parcel in the area for Greensgrow, he said. "We're excellent at reusing vacant land," he said. "For us, it's ideal."

The Baltimore Avenue Redevelopment Corp., which owns a health center on Baltimore Avenue above 50th Street, has another vision. Its president, Benjamin Smallwood, wants to expand the center and add a parking lot above 51st Street, a source familiar with the situation said.

"BARC does not want to stop [other plans]," Smallwood said. "If you have a plan, submit it. The more action we have on those two blocks, the better."

The City Planning Commission last year issued a district plan recommending blight recertification, a possibility that scares off some potential investors.

The authority does "not have any plans to condemn any properties on either block in question," according to an email from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.

Bottom line: Financing is key to any proposal.

Gary Jastrzab, executive director of the Planning Commission, said: "I'm not aware of any viable developers clamoring for this site. People may have ideas and may have thoughts, but it takes financial backing to do development."


On Twitter: @ReginaMedina

Online: ph.ly/DNEducation

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