Land Use Debate in South Philly

There is a large piece of public land in South Philly at 1100 Wharton that may become private development. There is a need for a public-centric use, specifically Senior Housing. City population has grown and almost 6,000 vacant units have vanished. 


There is an option A and B: 155 or 212 apartments in that space. “There is going to be plenty of large-scale apartment complexes built on Washington and Broad Street. Why does this also have to be a private development? Why can’t it be something for the public?” said a longtime South Philly resident who is familiar with the project. 


“I talked to other people [neighbors] and they said we should do senior housing. The Passyunk Square Civic Association and Councilman Squilla said they are going to choose between option A and option B, depending on public support,” he said. 


The value of homes and apartments are going up dramatically, one of the chief drivers for the increase are Airbnbs, which are taking apartments out of circulation and holding them for visitors. There is less housing for people who want to live in South Philly. Data from local economist Kevin Gillen shows Philadelphia home prices have risen nearly 46 percent over the last seven years.  


My source also noted that a senior housing facility would create many jobs in the area. “There is so much potential here; to turn it over to a developer is short sighted. We need to look outside the city’s process and demand an alternative method,” he said. 


“There is a recognition that congestion is an issue, yet they will turn around and put 155 apartments in the middle of our neighborhood, not on a main street like Broad or Washington, but right in the middle of our community. It’s obvious it doesn’t work for our community,” my source concluded.        


Andrew Stober with PSCA told us that PSCA and Councilman Squilla presented options that were solicited by the Kenney Administration for public feedback, feedback that can include that neither of the proposals are acceptable. 


“Our part of this latest part of the process, over the past eight months, has been focused on making sure neighbor concerns continue to be voiced. Typically, this stage of a land-sale consideration is internal to the city. Thanks to Councilmember Squilla, we’ve – extraordinarily – been able to have a seat at the table for this part of the process and to make sure all things you’re talking about continue to be part of the conversation,” said Sarah Anton, President of Passyunk Square Civic Association. “Really, that’s why we’re privy to any details at all about which direction things seem to be going at this early stage.” 


Anton said that indeed the current projects under consideration are both private developments – but they can still have public benefit components. 


“A call for senior housing around this area was actually part of the city’s 2035 plan recommendations for this area. On our summary sheet, you’ll see that public benefit components – including an affordable component (which could be senior housing), and the potential for a Jackson School use component are part of the current proposals under consideration,” said Anton. “We pushed for these to be included in PIDC’s Request For Proposals based on a call for comments we had in the fall, the recommendations of a task force assembled on the issue to consider the school capacity concerns, and our acute awareness of the need for things like, as you mention, affordable/senior housing.”


Stober said the association has not heard any more from the City, so no additional neighborhood meetings have been scheduled. The community awaits an update to review, consider and give feedback on.  


One further note: Anton said “there are still numerous pieces of public land both right around 1100 Wharton – including the South Philadelphia Older Adult Center – and more broadly in South Philly including PPA lots, portions of the waterfront, the Navy Yard, etc.”


Councilmember Squilla’s office did not respond to our questions. It would be good to know how many residents contacted his office about this development, and how many are in favor of senior housing.