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Along the Manayunk Canal

FMC President's Messages

Manayunk's Venice Island: Fights and Neglect

By Theresa Everline at  on http://philly.brownstoner.com/2010/05/manayunks_venice_island_fights_1.php

This month, Brownstoner Philadelphia is examining the Manayunk Historic District in a couple of posts every week. Here's the latest...Once chock full of factories and mills, Venice Island — the now-mostly-desolate strip of land between the Manayunk Canal and the Schuylkill River — became a site of hot debate in the late 1990s when City Council proposed upgrading the island's zoning from industrial to residential to allow for condo developments. Neighborhood residents fought the good fight, citing the island's history of flooding (18 times between 1822 and 1999) and traffic/parking congestion. Even FEMA's director wrote a letter opposing development. Nonetheless, the bill was passed in 1999. Within the year, two condo projects got approval. A chronology of the Venice Island projects is on this page of the Manayunk Neighborhood Council's website. Attention now is focused on the lower portion of Venice Island, where the plan is for a park, recreation, and performance center that will be managed by the Parks and Recreation Department. We asked Nicole Link, the president of Friends of the Manayunk Canal, about these issues.

What happened around 1998 to make the City Council want to see residential development on Venice Island?
Link: The housing market was booming, and private developers requested rezoning of Venice Island from industrial to residential. The decision of whether to rezone the island was highly contentious and ultimately went all the way to the State Supreme Court where the decision was made that the City Council could rezone the island, despite the significant flood risks and historic character of the area.

What do you know of the status of the park/rec center/performance center plans? Are you satisfied with the proposal?
Link: Last I knew they were going to bid this spring (basically now). Friends of the Manayunk Canal hasn't formally taken a position on the latest design proposal. We seek a design that provides the most access visually and physically for citizens to the history, culture and environmental resources of the Manayunk Canal and Schuylkill River. We also strongly support a diversity of recreational uses and feel that public dock or boat launch is currently a missing element that should be included.

Regarding the Manayunk Canal, is there something you'd very much like to see happen, as opposed to the projects that can/do get funding?
Link: FMC would love to see the Manayunk Canal and its Locks restored to working order, a project which has been proposed to Congress for funding numerous times unsuccessfully so far.

Are there any new challenges you see (or maybe fear) looming on the horizon?
Link: I think the most recent challenge that has presented itself is how to maintain the momentum and energy around greening and cleaning the Towpath and Canal when privately owned land on Venice Island is being left undeveloped and vacant as a result of the downturn in the economy. The old Carmella's restaurant site is a perfect example of a piece of property that was viable and active prior to its purchase by a private developer. The private developer who intends to build condos has not moved forward with construction because of the economy and has allowed the site to deteriorate badly. This unkempt, abandoned appearance gives the impression that no one cares about this space and seems to have indirectly spawned more vandalism and graffiti along the Towpath. Ongoing challenges are making a persuasive case to private developers (both residential and commercial) that having a vibrant, accessible, environmentally healthy Towpath and Canal will benefit them financially as well as serve the community as an amenity. 

July 2007 Message from the President

Friends of the Manayunk Canal (FMC), a local not-for-profit watershed organization, has already had a very busy summer and there is much more to come in this Fall.Civic groups, like FMC, are powerful tools for change and often give the community a collective voice during times of dissent.However, there is just as important a role for civic groups to create and support proactive community initiatives as well.

Friends of the Manayunk Canal holds numerous annual events that seek to enhance the community in proactive ways, including Dog Days of September (an educational event promoting responsible pet ownership), Historic and Environmental tours (professionally guided walks along the Towpath), and Philadelphia Cares Day Clean Up (a local opportunity to pitch in to clean up Philadelphia).

Other current projects happening in our area that you should know about:

Manayunk Canal Restoration Project

Fairmount Park’s implementation crew, a division of the City’s Capital Programs Office, has two future projects in mind for the Towpath that would be beneficial if completed. The first is an embankment restabilization/restoration project, which hopes to replant the banks of the Towpath to stabilize its sediments. In addition, a project that is further out on the horizon is to work on hydrologic plans for the canal to bring more of the river’s flow through the canal to insure that there is enough oxygen to support an aquatic habitat in the canal.

Waterways Restoration

Addressing routine maintenance issues, such as the removal of trash along and in the canal as well as invasive species management.The PWD Waterways Restoration Team help drain and clean large debris that collects at the Locks, while volunteers help pick up debris on the canal’s edges.

The PWD Waterways Restoration Team is comprised of members of both the Philadelphia Water Department and the Fairmount Park Commission, who are working to protect the drinking water supply by keeping garbage out of our streams and by restoring stream areas contaminated by damaged sewer infrastructure.To report trash or failing infrastructure, click here to contact them.

Locally, the Manayunk Development Corporation, in cooperation with local business leadership along Main Street, conducts periodic trash removals along the canal and in the canal at Lock Street. FMC's clean up efforts focus on areas not typically attended to by Manayunk Development Corporation.

 

The Schuylkill Project

FMC has been coordinating with The Schuylkill Project and Fairmount Park to create a targeted invasive species management plan along a stretch of the Towpath in one of many efforts being called “The Schuylkill Project.”

As part of this effort, the neighborhoods of EastFalls and Manayunk hope to realize the now hidden potential of the SchuylkillRiver. The larger project is a collaboration of the EastFalls and Manayunk Development Corporations, along with the Delaware Estuary, the Schuylkill River Greenway, the SchuylkillCenter for Environmental Education, the Philadelphia Water Department, Lower Merion Planning Commission, FairmountPark and Friends of the ManayunkCanal.

The goal of the Schuylkill Project is to not only revitalize the waterfronts, but to better connect the communities to the river by bringing people to the waterfront and providing opportunities for recreation and education. The river is important not only for the quality of life of our neighborhoods but also for its economic impact on commercial districts.

Lower Venice Island

Philadelphia Water Department Projects plans to construct an underground retention basin on VeniceIsland to address their federal mandate to control combined sewer overflows.Although the Water Dept. has yet to release the specifics of its plan, which will detail the size of the basin, its location, its depth, etc., the Philadelphia Water Department has made it clear that there will be funding to allow for the revegetation and landscaping of the site once the basin in completed. While the basin is intended to address the growing problem of stormwater runoff in the Roxborough/ Manayunk area as well as capture the last untreated sewage overflows draining into the Schuylkill River during storm events, a tremendous amount of public input and participation will be needed to insure that this project is designed and carried out in such a way to create as minimal an adverse impact as possible.

Private Development Proposals on Venice Island

  • Venice Lofts, developed by Dranoff Properties, located between Leverington Avenue and Fountain Street on Venice Island, in final phase of construction and recently changed plans from sale to rental.
  • Venice One, developed by Dan Nedcusin, proposed location is on the now closed Carmella’s Restaurant land between Leverington Avenue and Green Lane on Venice Island, 280 units approved by Philadelphia City Planning Commission, moving to the Zoning Board for approval. Many local residents may have noticed that Carmella’s, the large restaurant located at the end of Leverington Street across the canal on Venice Island, has recently closed. This land, all of which is located in the floodplain, is open to be developed. Although there is not a lot of information being offered to the public right now, this project surely will require the help of concerned local citizens to encourage that safe, responsible development take place on this site.
  • Cotton Street Landing, developed by Realen Properties, located on old Connelly Containers site off of Cotton Street, lastest unit announcement is to be 102 rental units, which is down from original plans to sell 270 units.

No matter what the project or issue in order to be successful in their efforts FMC must have the support and involvement of community members.Friends of the Manayunk Canal needs the help and input of local residents interested in local watershed, environmental, recreational, cultural and historic issues.

Don’t let decisions like these be made without your input! Choices about how your neighborhood is developed and maintained affect not only your property value, but your quality of life. Take this opportunity to get proactively involved in shaping and defining how your community develops!

Check out our website, sign up for our mailing list,
e-mail us an idea, or participate in upcoming events,
JUST GET EDUCATED & INVOLVED IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD!

Nicole Galdieri

July 2007
 

October 2004 Message from the President
Friends of the Manayunk Canal Hopes New Leadership will Energize Locals to Act

Friends of the Manayunk Canal’s long-standing president, Darlene Messina, officially stepped down from her role as leader of the local not-for-profit watershed organization on October 15, 2004. Darlene’s contributions to the organization and the community have been visible, persistent, and invaluable, which is why it is terrific news that Darlene will remain an active member of the organization even after she passes her title as president.

Additionally, Darlene has mentored Nicole Galdieri, an involved member of the organization and a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania studying for dual degrees in Environmental Studies and City Planning, preparing her for her new role as the president of Friends of the Manayunk Canal. Nicole’s experience working with the Lackawanna River Corridor Association and her academic concentration on water resource management and planning make her particularly suited to uphold Friends of the Manayunk Canal’s position as an active and influential civic organization.

While Friends of the Manayunk Canal is reenergized by its new leadership, they also need the help and input of local residents interested in local watershed issues, such as stormwater management, responsible floodplain development, water quality, protection of riparian buffers, and the preservation of our waterways and their banks for recreational uses. Civic groups like FMC are powerful tools for change, but in order to be successful in their efforts to push for positive development and management plans it is critical to have the support and involvement of community members.

There are currently a number of pressing issues facing the Manayunk and Roxborough area that require your help, input, and ideas, including:

 

  1. Fairmount Park’s Towpath and Canal Improvement Projects
    • Although visible improvement projects to the Towpath, like the installation of new lighting from Lock Street to Leverington Street are underway, more routine maintenance tasks, like emptying the overflowing garbage cans along the path, are left undone. While the Manayunk Development Corporation has pitched in to help with the garbage collection from those cans behind the stores on Main Street, it does not have enough extra staff nor funding to do this work for Fairmount Park all of the time.
    • Additionally, even some already funded projects, like the previously proposed Bikeway link> that would provide a pedestrian and bicycle bridge to more safely connect Wissahickon Park and the Towpath with Kelly Drive, have been put on hold. Because the bikeway project has been largely ignored for several years since the last public meeting was held, the funding originally allocated for the bikeway project is no longer enough to complete the project.
    • Addressing routine maintenance issues, such as the removal of new silt deposits along the canal resulting from recent storm events, must also take a backburner until other projects are completed. These deposits, if left unmanaged, can over time impede the flow of water into and through the canal and potentially lead to increases in flooding.
    • Fairmount Park’s implementation crew, a division of the City’s Capital Programs Office, does have two future projects in mind for the Towpath that would be beneficial if completed. The first is an embankment restabilization/restoration project, which hopes to replant the banks of the Towpath to stabilize its sediments. In addition, a project that is further out on the horizon is to work on hydrologic plans for the canal to bring more of the river’s flow through the canal to insure that there is enough oxygen to support an aquatic habitat in the canal.

     

  2. Philadelphia Water Department Projects
    • Restoration of the Fairmount Dam Fish Ladder, possible through a partnership between the Philadelphia Water Department and the U.S. Army Core of Engineers, has worked to remedy the design and maintenance limitations of the originally installed fish ladder. The structural modifications to the ladder, which included attraction flow and real-time monitoring capabilities, have permitted the ladder to optimize fish passage and increase spawning habitat for anadromous fish that are born in freshwater but live in salt water, returning to freshwater only to spawn. You can view this fish ladder at work by visiting the fish ladder viewing window at the Fairmount Water Works Interpretative Center.
    • Construction of an Underground Retention Basin on Venice Island — Although the Water Dept. has yet to release the specifics of its plan, which will detail the size of the basin, its location, its depth, etc., the Water Department has made it clear that there will be funding to allow for the revegetation and landscaping of the site once the basin in completed. While the basin is intended to address the growing problem of stormwater runoff in the Roxborough/ Manayunk area as well as capture the last untreated sewage outfall draining into the Schuylkill, a tremendous amount of public input and participation will be needed to insure that this project is designed and carried out in such a way to create as minimal an adverse impact as possible.

     

  3. Waterways Restoration Team — This cleanup team is comprised of members of both the Philadelphia Water Department and the Fairmount Park Commission, who are working to protect the drinking water supply by keeping garbage out of our streams and by restoring stream areas contaminated by damaged sewer infrastructure. Locally, the Manayunk Development Corporation conducts periodic clean ups in the Manayunk Canal at Lock Street. Citizens can call the Waterways Restoration Team to any location if they every see any large debris in any city waterway or notice any damaged sewer pipe that is draining outfall directly into the water by calling 215-685-6300.

     

  4. Private Developments
    • The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education recently sent out a Request for Proposal to sell 22 acres, a plot of land called the Boy Scout Tract located between Port Royal and Eva Streets, for development. Although the Request for Proposal states that the Center will look for a buyer with "sustainable" development plans, the sale of this piece of land seems to work against the Center’s mission to "preserve and improve our natural environment by fostering appreciation, understanding and responsible use of the ecosystem" as well as "to maintain the facilities of The Schuylkill Center and conserve its land for the purpose of environmental education." Your input is urgently needed to prevent the fragmentation and consumption of the limited natural lands still protected in the Upper Roxborough region.
    • Many local residents may have noticed that Carmella’s, a large restaurant located at the end of Leverington Street across the canal on Venice Island, has recently closed. This land, all of which is located in the floodplain, is open to be developed. Although there is not a lot of information being offered to the public right now, this project surely will require the help of concerned local citizens to encourage that safe, responsible development take place on this site.

Don’t let decisions like these be made without your input! Choices about how your neighborhood is developed and maintained affect not only your property value, but your quality of life. Take this opportunity to get proactively involved in shaping and defining how your community develops!

To get involved or to discuss any of these issues further, please join us at the next Friends of the Manayunk Canal meeting in the Venice Island Recreation Center, located at the end of Cotton Street, on Wednesday, October 27th at 7:00pm . A representative from the Philadelphia Water Department’s Office of Watersheds has been invited to share a short presentation on how residents can make a difference in stormwater management. You can also visit our website at www.manayunkcanal.org for more information about Friends of the Manayunk Canal and how to get involved.

Nicole Galdieri