East Falls: East Falls Forward Hosts Community Meeting to Discuss Plastic Reduction and Zoning

A group of about 15 to 20 people gathered in BuLogics, a tech company off Midvale Avenue, to eat, socialize, enjoy each other’s company and discuss pressing issues in East Falls on Feb. 21 as part of East Falls Forward’s monthly community meeting. Steven Fillmore (below), the night’s host and EFF’s secretary, offered beer, wine, soda, and water as part of a networking happy hour before the meeting began.

East Falls Forward is an organization that aims to make the neighborhood walkable and preserve green spaces in the community, according to Fillmore. BuLogics’ space is available for EFF meetings because Felicite Moorman, president of East Falls Forward and chief executive officer of BuLogics, offered the room to the organization.

When EFF started holding it’s meetings at BuLogics, which Fillmore said has a “Silicon Valley feel,” the owners were generous with the space and offering beer, so attendees started bringing food and drinks to the meetings.

“If it’s too formal, it’s kind of stuffy,” said Gregory Skochko, an East Falls resident and owner of Salveo Wellness Center on Ridge Avenue. “When you have an opportunity to socialize, you get to know people personally, and I think that allows collaboration and future opportunities to work together.”

Everyone gathered around the projector as the meeting was about to begin. The meeting focused on two main issues: plastic reduction in the community and discussion of a variance proposed for a development on Indian Queen Lane.

Brandon Spewak, the project manager for the development at 3680 Indian Queen Lane by Mainstreet Development LLC, arrived during the happy hour to give a presentation and lead a Q and A about issues regarding the new building.

The building is under construction with a commercial use planned for the ground floor, but the owner of the parcel applied for a variance to allow the first floor to be turned into a family unit. According to the application for appeal filled out by attorney Ronald J. Patterson, “Literal enforcement of the zoning code will impose an unnecessary hardship upon the property and applicant.”

Next, Karen Melton (below, left), a retired IT worker who is now an activist working on environmental campaigns, gave the second presentation on the importance of recycling and plastic reduction in the community.

“My husband and I will have lived in East Falls this summer for 28 years, which makes me one of those newcomers,” she said.

She proceeded to talk about her involvement with the Weavers Way co-op and its year-old Plastic Reduction Task Force.

According to Melton, grocery stores could help reduce single-use plastic consumption by letting shoppers bring their own containers for prepared foods and bulk foods like the Mt. Airy and Ambler Weavers Way stores have. These stores have scales so shoppers can bring in reusable containers for their produce and cashiers can adjust the price of their produce by taking into account the weight of the container.

“We would like to think that all this plastic gets recycled, but I think we’re learning that’s not the case,” said Melton. “What we’re reading is that Philadelphia is actually burning about 50 percent of all of our recycled materials.”

Melton urged attendees to talk to the management of their local food stores to demand minimizing plastic bags as well as other plastic products. She said a bring-your-own-bag initiative would help reduce waste and litter and showed examples of reusable bags that can be created or purchased. In addition, Melton suggested food locations could offer reusable containers such as takeout containers for prepared foods or encourage consumers to bring their own containers to fill with prepared or bulk foods.

Following Melton, Meenal Raval (above, right), a member of the Southeast PA Sierra Club, gave a presentation on the importance of limiting the use of plastics.

“We’re trying to ban single-use plastic bags in Philly,” Raval said. “They are rarely recycled. I would pack them all in a bag and take them to the supermarket, but most of them just get incinerated.”

Raval also spoke about the effects plastic bags have on the environment, especially on marine life, which often consumes plastic, mistaking it for food.

“They end up in seafood,” Raval said. “Which if you eat seafood: Plastics-R-Us. I didn’t know that. It makes you think about why we are doing this.”

She spoke about other cities such as Boston and Mumbai, India that have banned plastic bags and plastic bottles and seen a reduction in litter. Raval hopes Philadelphia can be next.

“So we are going to start just with the checkout bags, and that’s the deal we’re working on with Councilman Mark Squilla,” Raval said. “They’re drafting the legislation, we’re getting the public support for it. He hopes to introduce the legislation this spring. What would that mean? You go to any store, they won’t be giving out the bags.”

Skochko questioned  whether businesses might be against banning single-use plastics if they thought it might hurt their profits.  

Raval pointed out that plastic bags were an additional expense to companies.

“We have talked to ShopRite and the major chains,” said Raval. “I think the people from Weavers Way, they spend what, $600,000, something like that a year on single-use plastics? That little store, they’re not the level of ShopRite.”

Toward the end of her presentation, Raval showed a list of organizations committed to supporting the green initiative. The list included 350 Philly, Clean Air Council, Clean Water Action, North Central Philadelphia CDC, PennEnvironment, PHLASK Ecosystem, Physicians for Social Responsibility- Philadelphia Chapter, Southeastern PA Group of Sierra Club, Southwest CDC, Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership and Weavers Way Cooperative Association.

No. 13 of the list in bold letters read, “East Falls Forward?”

“I don’t see a downside,” said Fillmore. “I was actually energized by the presentation. It was great. Anyway we can help get the word out, we’d be happy to.”

After the presentations on recycling and plastics, the residents discussed the zoning issue in more depth. The attendees discussed what the community would want in that space, but there were not many residents in attendance from the blocks immediately around the building.

“A lot of thought was given by the city when they were doing the new zoning maps,” said Carolyn Sutton (below, left), who led most of the zoning discussion during the meeting. “They did meet with the community. They came up with the zoning that’s there based on the community input. Because it was zoned CMX-2.5 is the reason we now have the problem we have.”

According to the Philadelphia zoning codes, CMX-2.5 zoning classifies a building as a neighborhood commercial mixed-use building, which allows the building to hold a commercial business on the bottom floor with residential housing on the upper floors. They are intended to accommodate neighborhood-serving retail and service uses, including pedestrian friendly retail corridors.

Sutton discussed several instances in which the community had dealt with zoning issues. Previously, she had been a part of a zoning committee that talked to the neighborhood to find out what they wanted and later successfully negotiated with the contractors to reach an agreement. She said this would be a good idea in this situation, but repeated that since she doesn’t live in that immediate area, it was the residents who would be most affected that should take those steps to resolve the issue.

Sutton said residents can attend meetings hosted by East Falls Community Council’s zoning committee to express their opinions on the issue, and then the zoning committee will decide whether to support the variance or not.

“The zoning board decides whether they’re supporting the variance or not,” she said. “You can say, ‘We’ll support the variance if you do X, Y and Z.’”

A few residents were concerned about how the trash would be handled since the lot did not have enough space in the back for a dumpster. If there is a business in the new building, then it would be responsible for arranging waste management.

Though the zoning issue was discussed extensively, there was no resolution by the residents.

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