Plans For Former Triangle Park Jeopardized By Appeal?

The story at 601 Christian St. has taken several turns since we last checked in on the property at the end of last year. In case you're walking into the movie halfway through, here's some background: 

Current view

A gas station sat on this triangular parcel for many years, and about half a dozen years ago, after several years of vacancy, the owner of the property allowed a group of neighbors to clean up the parcel to create Triangle Park. It looked like the City would purchase the land to preserve the pocket park in perpetuity, but in 2012 the City decided it wasn't willing to purchase the property without major ground testing and remediation of any contamination from the years of gas station use. Then the owner tore up the park.

By the end of 2015, the owner had an agreement of sale with developers who were planning a five-story mixed-use building with twelve apartments. With feedback from the neighborhood, they revised their project down to four stories with nine apartments, but that project got denied at the ZBA in January. After considering their options for a few months, the developers changed their proposal again, designing a five-story building with seven apartments and a fresh fruit and vegetable element as part of a first floor retail space. The project received permits over the counter, according to Plan Philly, because it takes advantage of a Fresh Food Market bonus in the Zoning Code which allows an extra fifteen feet of height for a building that contains “an establishment in which the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables to the general public occupies at least 50% of the display area.”  

Project sketch, image from Plan Philly

The folks from Friends of Triangle Park were not happy about this situation, so they appealed the by-right permit, stating on their Facebook page that the bonus was not intended for Bella Vista and that neighbors opposed the project. The ZBA denied the appeal last month. Unsatisfied with the ruling, the group then offered to support a revised project with no retail use, but they couldn't come to an agreement with the developers. FOTP appealed the ruling to the Court of Common Pleas last week.

That pretty much brings us up to date. The developers have a zoning permit in hand to built a five-story mixed-use building on this site, provided they include a fresh fruit and vegetable display. Assuming they don't mind building at risk, they are free to proceed with pulling building permits and beginning construction. Unless this appeal is successful, this might just be the end of the line for Triangle Park. Then again, we don't even play an attorney on television, so we won't try to predict what'll happen in court.

  • Julezee

    I’m not knowledgable enough about the topic to write a cogent letter to City Council, so I’m wondering if some kind of online petition written by someone with these skills might be a good idea….I’d imagine using other forums such as Facebook and Philadelphia Speaks might be able to garner enough e-signatures to at least warrant further consideration of the Council before the 6/20 vote. I’d think some kind of study should be undertaken before just chipping away at the program. Anyone at NP who might be interested in writing, I’d be happy to sign!

  • tsarstruck

    Fascinating that we need studies to amend the abatements so it doesn’t so drastically favor the rich, but we should keep it completely intact based on the flimsiest of evidence of how great its effect is and absolutely no evidence that keeping it at its current levels (levels no other major city is doing) is necessary.

    • Julezee

      No matter which side of the argument you come down on (and I don’t know which is more right), how could a study be a bad thing as long as you can find someone relatively impartial to perform it? I would have thought (and I might be wrong) that before they implemented it in the first place they performed studies and/or looked at the impact in other cities…So, at the same time they are set to implement AVI, they want to modify the abatement program….at what point are they going to put forth more effort into collectin unpaid taxes that are incontroversially due and payable?

    • John

      Maybe no other major city is as bad as Philadelphia. Chicago, DC, NYC, Boston, all don’t need abatements because people want to live in those cities. Philadelphia has serious poverty and crime issues, coupled with a 4% tax for the “privilege” of living in the middle of all this.

      Stop with the class warfare and realize that the social services this city needs are paid for by people who are buying these expensive homes, funding development (and jobs that go with it) along with living in the city and spending money at the same time.

      • tsarstruck

        Go back to Philly.com.

        • John

          Intelligent response. I suggest you stop with the childish retorts and try reading an opposing viewpoints argument. While tax abatements hurt the tax coffers in the short term, the benefit from development easily offsets that.

          Philadelphia, unlike the above mentioned cities, needs a draw to bring people to Center City. The abatements have done this. In exchange for lower taxes on property the city has received construction jobs, increased values with surrounding properties, affluent citizens living in the city, paying sales taxes, providing customers for local restaurants and shops (all of which pay taxes BTW).

          But hey, lets cap it or reduce it because it might get a slight increase in taxes in the near term. All without knowing whether or not it will hinder development in the long term.

          IMO, this short sighted behavior is something I’ve witnessed frequently in the city. Hopefully it will change or at least forces with vision will hinder it.

          • tsarstruck

            I gave the response a claim of “class warfare” deserved.

          • John

            “Fascinating that we need studies to amend the abatements so it doesn’t
            so drastically favor the rich, but we should keep it completely intact
            based on the flimsiest of evidence of how great its effect is and
            absolutely no evidence that keeping it at its current levels (levels no
            other major city is doing) is necessary.”

            The abatement benefits developers and the city, not rich people. You bring wealth into the topic because you are trying to bait the conversation.

            Philadelphia needs to entice educated and high earning individuals to move into and live in the city. If it doesn’t then they will simply choose to not live in the city. And with them goes the commerce they bring, the improved property values and all the other benefits that having an educated and higher earning populace brings.

            Go take a look at Northern Liberties to see how a once dangerous and dilapidated part of the city can be transformed through appropriate tax incentives. Even when the abatement ends NoLibs will remain developed and a positive contribution to the city.

        • I find it incredibly unlikely that John is a Philly.com commenter; not only does he use proper punctuation and paragraph breaks, his comment didn’t contain a single racial slur.

      • PAPlan

        So you think those cities aren’t facing the same problems as Philly? Chicago’s crime and poverty issues are worse than Philly’s. Parts of DC are so bad that it is an embarrassment to call it our nation’s capital. New York has worse inequality than any other city in the US.

        ALL large cities in this country have serious issues. But things are getting better in Philly and elsewhere. As far as taxes are concerned, Philly’s state and local tax burden is actually not all that high and compares favorably now to many suburbs and other cities. The wage tax is offset by a low state tax (especially for those at the higher end of the income spectrum since it is regressive).

      • Karig2

        As an FYI, they have had 25 year tax abatements in Chicago for quite some time, now. I don’t know about others, however.

  • tjt

    Holy crap, that’s a lot of strawmen, trickle down economics, and scare tactics rolled into one post that then claims to be trying to argue for a study after first presenting “data” showing pretty much nothing related to abatements (hint: correlation isn’t causation).

    You showed, Center City has been growing like crazy over the past ten years, yet the city is desperately short on money, its poorest neighborhoods and residents have seen no real improvement and that map of abatements makes one thing clear: abatements have been pretty damn concentrated in specific (wealthier) neighborhoods in the city.

    • ajs1512

      Holy crap! All the author of the post is asking for is a study that would examine the impact of the abatement proposal. If you consider the data the that was provided to be irrelevant, then perhaps you would be so kind as to provide us with some data that proves the abatement would have minimal impact! You can’t just criticize someone’s data without providing some of your own and then dismiss the suggestion of creating a study that would delve deeper into the matter.

      Why have there been more tax abated properties in wealthier neighborhoods? Because that’s where all the development is!!!

      As Julezee said below, how is a study a bad thing? Perhaps, it might be if you have a partcilur agenda…

      • tjt

        If all they had done was ask for a study and point out that NGoode’s making claims without any evidence, that’d be one thing. But that’s not what was done in this post, which presents all sorts of pretty images and claims that show something. What do they show? They show nothing about the abatement and it’s impact.

        Asking for a study is generally a good thing, but it’s also often used as a delaying tactic to drop something off the legislative table. Calling for a study is a great way to take something from front page news and burying it.

        I can criticize anyone’s argument. The data presented is data. it’s neutral, but its use is not and in this case that use was pretty damn bad. The claims made about it, on the other hand…not so much. Nor did I ever dismiss the idea of a study. I love studies. But that’s not how/what this post was saying for 80% of the text and illustrations. The desire for a study only came in at the end as a cover for what was an attack on an idea. be a more critical/analytic reader. For example, look at the title of the post–is that asking for a study, or is it claiming Naked Philly is right about something and Goode is wrong?

        And yes, development + abatements are going on in wealthier neighborhoods. That’s kinda WIlson Goode’s (only) decent point–the city has been giving a tax benefit to the neighborhoods that are doing pretty damn well in a time where pretty much every other neighborhood is getting crapped on. Perhaps that warrants some rethinking?

  • WeBuiltThisCity

    Fine. Let’s commission a study. But if that study shows that the abatement could be capped at $300,000 and 5 years without significantly affecting new construction, then do we accept that study? I have a feeling that the majority of new housing in gentrifying neighborhoods that cost $300-600K (heavily without union labor and thus not at NY costs) could handle a much lower abatement cap than $500,000. But the very costly high rise construction w union wages in Center City would take a beating at $300,000 cap. Maybe those properties need a $750,000 cap.

    The abatement is all about making up for the cost of construction. Maybe a study would show we should abate based on that. Use union labor, get a full abatement. Use nonunion labor, get a lesser abatement.

    Maybe this ridiculous debate can finally get the elephant in the room discussed, and we can make progress at hammering away at the real problem here, which is the cost of union construction being ridiculous and inappropriate and the various hoops we are now all jumping through fighting each other while the trade unions sit back and laugh while continuing to exclude those who Goode claims to protect.

    This whole discussion sickens me. Pandering and class warfare and veiled racism, all because everyone is too wussy to stop pandering to Johnny Doc and company.

    • Julezee

      I’m curious if other cities that have offered abatements have ever cut back those programs once an uptick in development has occurred. While Philadelphia has its own special brand of problems, and you can only hope to generally compare one city to another, I’d think that would be a fairly easy first step in terms of analyzing proposed tweaks to the program. I think you could argue either way (for tweaking the program or leaving it alone), but I don’t think you need a study to prove that finding a way to actually collect on delinquent tax bills would be a money maker for the city. I think there was also some kind of proposal to sell off liens but am not sure of the details….http://abandonedphiladelphia.com/2013/04/06/avi-and-philadelphias-blight-and-tax-delinquency-problem/

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding (or have too simple an approach), but it seems to be fairer to take action against those who do not pay their bills (or otherwise clear out old debt) than to cut back a program that MAY be directly correlated to increased development (it may not, but I don’t think anyone is sure yet). I know that some do not pay their tax bills because they have legitimate financial struggles due to hard times…I’m thinking more of those folks who own primary residences in the suburbs but fail to pay their taxes on multiple residential/commercial investment properties in the city. Also just read a blog on City-owned properties that have not been offered for sale and just remain unused…what’s the deal with this? http://www.philadelinquency.com/?p=2691

      • WeBuiltThisCity

        Seriously? This again? OF COURSE WE SHOULD COLLECT DELINQUENT TAXES! But that is not tax policy. That is collections. (and also not that likely to fill a short term gap).

        Why can’t we do both? Why can’t we do multiple things at a time? Reform taxes, and collect as much as we can in delinquent taxes. But the “all problems can be solved by collecting delinquent taxes” argument is a massive red herring, and not a real solution.

        • Julezee

          Exactly where did I say that all problems could be solved by collecting delinquent taxes? All that I was saying is that actually enforcing action against current violations before tweaking a program that appears to be working might change how much to revise the program. Of course you can do both. But can you really see this city actually doing both (let alone multiple things) at the same time? We see how accurate AVI assessments have been. And, if you feel so strongly that YOU MUST USE CAPITAL LETTERS TO YELL AT ME, then maybe you should be a bit more outraged that this is not being done and ask why this seems to be such a problem. The issues underlying lack of collections enforcement or a union stronghold on the city goes deep to government corruption and patronage/pandering. We have much deeper issues than tinkering around with abatements.

          • WeBuiltThisCity

            The line of “we have much deeper issues” is frequently used by people who want to avoid making change. You brought nothing to this conversation, and thus I yelled at you. Because you are intentionally hijacking a serious conversation to distract us with a different, albeit also serious, conversation.

          • Julezee

            Perhap I should not have introduced the collection of unpaid property taxes or the sale of liens into a dialogue on the tax abatement program. So, yes, I do apologize for that. But, you could simply have ignored my post rather than be arrogant and rude. You also could have politely educated me as to how the varying concepts are mutually exclusive in your view. I would have listened to such an approach and may have agreed. But to insult someone and shut down honest dialogue by telling them they have nothing important to say discredits your position. My intent was not to purposely hijack a conversation…it was only to raise the fact that there are a lot of very serious factors to consider when examining the economic health of this city and I was not sure that tinkering with abatements when people seem so upset over other issues, such as AVI, is correct timing.

        • Karig2

          The fact that the city is owed approximately half a billion dollars in unpaid property taxes, should concern everyone. This is one of the defining differences between Phila. and Boston or NYC. Think of all the amazing things Phila could do with that much money. It might even forgo raising taxes on everyone else, if the deadbeats coughed up their fair share. Suffice to say, Boston and NY would never allow this tax delinquency to happen and as a result, you don’t have derelict properties dotting downtown or in tony residential areas. If someone doesn’t pay their taxes, they are given an ultimatum and if not paid by the new due date, the property is appropriated by the city and then sold. At the same time, you won’t see vacant lots dotting either city because there is a steep cost involved, so it makes sense to either develop it yourself or sell it to someone who will. There are many ways to skin a cat, but Phila. apparently hasn’t learned how and we all pay the price.

  • Karig2

    Let’s keep in mind….the abatement has always really been about changing the equation for the future, after 50 years of steady decline in the housing market in Philadelphia. There had been a very real danger 10 – 15 years ago that Philly would or could have gone the way of Detroit, unless something major was done to change the dynamic. The abatement is the catalyst that has done this, and even better, it will change city revenues in a big way over time. The city is much, much better as a result of it. Can you imagine what the city would look like without it? That said, it has been a win-win setup overall…because even if you don’t live in a tax abated property, your overall surroundings and general ambiance of the city has been improved immensely. At the same time, developers have cashed in nicely, as well.

    • Young Philly

      Well said.

  • John

    Not sure why this is surprising to anyone. Just don’t buy a place to live in Philly. The city is ok, has some nice stuff, but isn’t anything special. Surly not worth the 4% tax to live here also.

    Philadelphia is broke because it is corrupt and inefficient. The city has building costs that rival Chicago and NYC, both better and more prosperous cities. The city is entirely focused on collecting taxes, but ignores the benefits of development.

    Just rent in the city, enjoy it and move away when you want to get serious. Only thing keeping Philly from being Detroit is its proximity to NYC and DC. Simply a larger, slightly nicer Baltimore and that isn’t saying much.

    • PAPlan

      I vehemently disagree. “Isn’t anything special..” is not how I would describe this city. There is more history here than most entire states. There is more art, theater, and culture here than most any other American city (including DC, but not NYC which is obviously the center of arts and culture in the US). This city has a long proud history and people with your attitude are not needed or desired.

      • John

        Yeah, there is history. Same thing with Boston. Plain fact
        is the city is a nice, wealthy core surrounded by utter poverty. I do not
        disagree that Philly has some nice things, but it isn’t at the level of Boston,
        NYC, Chicago or DC (just to name a few places).

        And while my attitude might not be “needed” in your eyes, the tax
        dollars I pay in the city and the money I spend as a CC resident *is* needed.

        Honestly, this love it or leave it attitude is something I’ve only found in
        these smaller cities. I suggest you grow up and start looking objectively at
        this city instead of getting upset when someone rightly points out faults.

        • Julezee

          I’m not entirely sure how you would expect people who love this city to react to some of your comments. There is a thing called loyalty and pride. We can, of course, acknowledge our problems and strive to fix them, but pointing out faults and issues is very different from just making a blanket statement the city is “nothing special.” A city is comprised of peope…it’s not just buildings and roadways. So, your insult goes a bit deeper than just criticizing policies…you are taking a stab at the organic force that works hard to keep the city alive. We are not just a resting place between NYC and DC. We do value the tax dollars you spend here, but you might enjoy the city a bit more if you adjusted your attitude. What a city is worth is completely subjective. So, a little growing up can be advised for both sides of the above argument.

          • John

            Too much pride is hubris. I’d suggest less pride in an area code and more pride in personal accomplishment. A city is simply a place to live and work.

            Philly is a nice place, but needs to improve. If the speed and depth of improvement doesn’t continue people will leave. All the pride and loyalty in the world isn’t going to get non native Philadelphians to call this home unless things keep improving.

            React how you want.

          • PAPlan

            If you think those other cities you mentioned don’t have wealth surrounded by poverty then you must have never actually visited them.

            I criticize Philadelphia all the time and work to improve things here, but that is different than your blanket statement that the city is nothing special. There were no legitimate criticisms in your original post, just the typical negative blanket statements about how the city is not as good as NY. And no we do not need your tax dollars. Go ahead and leave and I’ll be sure to spend twice as much to make up for it.

            Also, I’m not a native Philadelphian. I moved here because I fell in love with it and realized that it is much more than just “a place to live and work.”

          • John

            Yeah, see, I don’t fall in love with cities. They are places to work and live. Philly is fine, has some nice stuff, but it isn’t anything great as of yet.

            And yes, Chicago and DC all have issues with poverty and crime. But they also are major cities whereas Philadelphia is not.

            Man, cannot believe people getting so upset over criticism of a city. Take pride in your accomplishments, not your zip code.

          • Julezee

            Really?….Work and live only?…How about eat, meet friends, relax in green spaces, root for sports teams, go to concerts, make fun of regional accents, congregate for spiritual purposes, bitch about politics, …there are people who work hard to improve the city they love…is that not a personal accomplishment? Nobody is saying “Hooah” for a zip code…a city may be composed of inanimate structures…but the life force of any city is its citizens…and you’ve managed to insult them all by saying a city (made up of PEOPLE) is not that special and is not a major city…Eh, why bother with you…you obviously don’t get it…say hello to DC and Chicago for me.

          • John

            Subjectively Philly might be a major city, but objectively it is not. I am sorry that you cannot see the difference. It is a nice place, has some cool things and I hope that development continues as it is a must for this momentum to continue. With that said, it isn’t NYC, it isn’t DC, it isn’t LA, or Chicago, or Houston. All of these cities are regional powerhouses. Philadelphia is essentially a larger Baltimore.

            Not sure why people get so upset when this is pointed out. I’ve lived in many places and will live in many places. This is a nice experience and will be a fond memory, but I am objective enough to call a spade a spade.

            I also love the “love it or leave it” mentality. Whenever a city is full of people who “love it”, whatever that might mean” you lose objectiveness and development. I also did not insult the people who are trying to make Philly better. You know, the developers and entrepreneurs. I probably did slightly offend people who take pride in nothing they have done and people who comment on a website and think they are making a city better.

          • Julezee

            When do we get to look forward to you considering Philadelphia a fond memory?

          • Ben – Bella Vista

            It’s funny that you consider DC a major city and Philadelphia not, Philly is more than twice the population…

        • Ben – Bella Vista

          Philly has better music and food than Washington, DC by far. Name one US city that doesn’t have a wealthy downtown with poverty surrounding it. Philly also has to offer a far more dense downtown than other US cities which is one of its draws – the third largest downtown in the US.

          Is city government inefficient? Extremely. Can it change to better take advantage of its numerous benefits? Absolutely.

          • John

            Philadelphia’s draw is proximity to NYC and DC with reduced costs for living. This depends on the city continually gentrifying and developing.

        • Ken Nemeth

          I’ve lived in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. They have nothing on Philadelphia. The restaurant scene here is second only to New York and the architecture and history are definitely top 4 nationwide. We’ve got 4 great sports teams and we are indeed in between DC and NYC with a 40 minute flight to Boston. You don’t like Philly? Don’t let the screen door hit your butt on the way out. We don’t need you.
          Look, I’m not happy at all with the tax abatement situation. The program singlehandedly revitalized at least 5 major neighborhoods and is still having effects in at least 3 more.
          Forest. Trees. Get over it and let’s band together and keep making this City better together.

      • Karig2

        Yes, I totally agree, Brandon. In many ways, Philadelphia has gone under the radar and has been an undiscovered metropolis, just waiting to be re-discovered. It is a lot more livable and affordable than most other spots on the east coast, as well. Let’s face facts – a 1000 sqft, one bedroom condo in Manhattan is about $1 million, not to mention the condo fees, which are probably quite high. Philly is still a bargain, no matter how you slice it.

    • Karig2

      Every American city is inundated with ballooning costs, especially for out of control pensions and prisons (which both need to be brought to a halt). However, that aside, Philadelphia still has alot of unrealized potential. Just think of how convenient it will be to live here, if/when high speed rail can get you into Manhattan in 36 minutes. It will be faster than living in Brooklyn and a lot less expensive, no matter what the tax rates are, and in many ways, a lot more livable, too. I suspect many New Yorkers will opt to live here, rather than there, as many already have in the last few years. And, think of what that new demand will do for real estate values. As for the suburbs…whether PA or NJ…people are paying huge property taxes …and have to drive everywhere, contend with traffic and basically live at shopping malls. If you think that’s so great, go for it…but, not for me.

      • John

        Not disagreeing, but I consider the prospects of a high speed rail slim. The Acella can go 100+ MPH, yet travels around 70. Why? Grade crossings. If we can’t get the “high speed rail” we currently have to operate at max speed I doubt the ability to put true high speed rail in my lifetime.

        Lets not ignore that the rail will have to go through heavily developed and expensive NJ. But lets hope I am wrong.

        As for the suburbs, I agree that property taxes are high. But you also get a big house, a safe neighborhood and good schools. Philadelphia has lower property tax, but you get a smaller place, shitty schools and less safety.

        The whole premise of this tax abatement is to essentially lure people into the city, get them to build and then when the abatement goes you hope the place is a lot better than it is and people decide to stay. That is why I think it is a good idea to have.

        Philadelphia is going to get developed abatement or not. Being between DC and NYC is a benefit that other cities just don’t have. While it is a curse in some regards, it will benefit the city overall. The issue is the speed of the benefit.

        • There are no remaining grade crossings between Washington and New York on the NEC. Curves and inferior catenary are the main things that slows down trains from here to New York.

          The thing the abatement brings is relative speed. Maybe Philadelphia is too attractive and too close to New York to not get redeveloped, but if that’s the metric, then the developers’ money should be cascading into Newark and Trenton. Last I checked, Newark wasn’t attracting much in the way of investment and Trenton was still looking completely scrod.

          Of course, the real solution here is to give up on taxing improvements altogether, and to shift to only taxing land. Unfortunately, the AVI process has taught us that the only thing the city is worse at determining the value of than a building, is the lot it sits on.

  • Young Philly

    I’m pretty sure whether or not this city is going to succeed or fail is ENTIRELY dependent on continued development in Center City. At its peak in 1950 Philadelphia was a city of 2.1 million residents. Over the next 60 years it suffered massive population declines losing nearly half a million residents.

    But now the first time Philadelphia is actually adding more new residents than its losing. The 10-year tax-abatment sparked a residential development boom that has added tens of thousand of new residential units to the Center City housing stock. Downtown population growth is perhaps the single most important factor contributing to Philadelphia’s future success as a city. For the first time in half a century demographics are on our side and continued Center City development will help attract new residents and grow the tax base. A growing residential population drive more retail & restaurant growth which in turn which make the city more attractive to prospective residents and who knows maybe some day jobs will come back downtown as companies seek to be closer to their employment base. Were almost there. Let’s not take away the bowl of punch before the dance is over.

    Philadelphia has New York City construction costs with Baltimore rents. New development is tough enough as it is, but take away the tax-abatement and the numbers just wont work. A thriving Center CIty is good for the city as a whole. A stagnate or declining Center City benefits nobody – just look back, there’s 50 years of proof.

  • john

    Politicians make bonehead move to appeal to their undereducated electorate. Film at 11.

  • Joe

    I’d love to know what Goode or any other council member is doing to bring jobs in significant numbers back to any non-Center City, University City, or Temple-area neighborhood.

    • First Citizen

      Nothing, because politicians don’t create jobs, though they can surely eliminate them.

      • Joe

        I didn’t say “create”. I said “bring”. I commute from the suburbs to work in Center City, so I find his “fuck you” to the neighborhood offensive. Rendell – a politician – worked to keep Center City open past 5 o’clock during the 90s, and look where it is now. I and the legion of other 20 to 30 year olds around me don’t work here because everything closes up early. Even if you think politicians can’t create jobs, you have to agree they can work to create conditions in which employers and employees flourish. And in my view, if Goode is going to trash Center City, then he’s gotta back it up with actual efforts to bring prosperity to non-Center City neighborhoods appealing, not just spew bullshit that appeals to haters.

  • samac

    How many mayors does it take to destroy a city? One if he’s Goode…

    Old joke, but now the son is trying to finish the job his father started- creating a Detroit on the Deleware.