Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ball of Confusion: AAA Presents Plan for Auto-Centric Development Along the Delaware River

A community meeting was held Tuesday night in Pennsport to discuss the Plan of Development regarding the AAA project located at 1601 S. Columbus Boulevard, the corner of Columbus Boulevard and Tasker Street. Representatives from the Pennsport Civic Association, the DRWC, and concerned neighbors were on hand as representatives from AAA presented their case.

AAA will present their final Plan of Development before the Philadelphia City Planning Commission on May 20th - where they will take action in either approving or disapproving AAA's plan.
Representatives from AAA go over the project at 1601 S. Columbus Boulevard, Brad Murr (L) and Andrew DeFonzo (R)
Here are some of the key points the emerged from the meeting:

1) It's not AAA, it's the location of the site and use of the project

Dr. James Moylan, President of the Pennsport Civic Association prefaced the entire meeting by stating that he loves AAA and would love to have them become part of the neighborhood. "AAA is not the issue here at all," he said. One of the main points of opposition in this instance comes from the use of the site as an auto-repair center along the Delaware River.

Later on, during the question and answer session, Dr. Moylan expressed concern about the possible precedent set by allowing such an auto-oriented development along the riverfront. He mentioned the fact that AAA, for all their good intentions for the location, could decide to move the business, potentially opening up the space for another auto related business to move in due to the now allowed land use. "If this should come to fruition," said Moylan. "You guys can all go home -- we have to live with it."

Carl Primavera, Attorney for the AAA project, explained that this is along term lease and that AAA thinks this market (mid-level auto service) is going to grow. The project is not meant to be a "short-term thing" for AAA.

Multiple neighbors also expressed their affinity for AAA, one woman going so far as to say that they've "saved my ass" more than once. However, they too disagreed with the location of this project while offering up ideas on alternative locations in Pennsport and Whitman.

Rene Goodwin, who is a board member of the Pennsport Civic Association, was concerned that due diligence wasn't met throughout the process and wanted to protect commercial viability riverfront development. "This is not a tree-hugger thing," said Goodwin while pointing out the potential economic impact of the plan to cap I-95 at Penn's Landing. She went on to note that this plan is "absolutely contrary" to the goals of making development along the Delaware River more pedestrian and bicycle friendly and less auto-centric.

Neighbors expressed their interests in simply getting it right with regards to waterfront development, citing false promises, failed projects and even lamenting the ones that are currently in place - including strip clubs, large swaths of parking lots, and even a "waterfront Walmart."

2) "Procedural miscue" fuels confusion over how permits were issued in the first place
[Editor's note: I would highly recommend you read this article from PlanPhilly and watch the video at the end. It's AAA's first Plan of Development presentation to the Planning Commission and will give you a better idea of the entire process.]

The original AAA plan was submitted for approval during a temporary version of the Central Delaware River Overlay which allowed the auto repair land use but required a Plan of Development to be presented to the Planning Commission. After approval, AAA made revisions to the plan to make it a more urban experience. However, these revisions were submitted under the current Central Delaware River Overlay, which doesn't allow for auto repair as a land use but also didn't require a Plan of Development to be submitted.

Because permits were granted under the temporary version of the overlay, it is subject to those rules and regulations. Therefore, a Plan of Development was needed after all.

How did it happen? Carl Primavera mentioned that it was a "procedural miscue" on the part of L&I that caused the confusion and apologized that AAA did not get involved [in the outreach] earlier on in the process. He also noted that the permit is good (due to the temporary overlay being in affect at the time) but that the procedure is the issue. That is why AAA met with the Planning Commission earlier in April, the Pennsport Civic Association on Tuesday, and will meet with the Planning Commission again on May 20th.

3) A more "urban" AAA experience

Brad Murr, representative of AAA, went on to explain the thought process behind such a project at a key point of access along the river. He pointed to AAA's experience and popularity within the Philadelphia market (noting that AAA Mid Atlantic used to be headquartered in Philadelphia) and that AAA noticed a "large gap" between large auto-service providers and everyone else. He noted that while most people tend to get work on their car as a reaction to something happening to it (flat tire, body work, etc), AAA auto centers typically serve about "20 customers a week" and it's usually maintenance based work. "We are not in the quick oil change business...we do not do body or fenders."

Overview of the AAA project
As for as the project itself, the idea is to have customers drive their car to the lot and have an employee of AAA move the car in to the service center via a single auto bay on the east side of the lot near Tasker Street. From there, work will be done inside the building and the car would be driven out of one of the five bays on the south side of the building in to the main parking lot. The customer would then exit the premises on the curb cut located on the west side of the building on to Columbus Boulevard.

Tasker Street will have large windows that look like auto bays. They will be "non-operational" and offer "no vehicular access" according to Murr.

The plans were updated to move the structure to the corner of the lot and also includes new landscaping.


AAA will present their final Plan of Development before the Philadelphia City Planning Commission on May 20th - where they will take action in either approving or disapproving AAA's plan.


  1. This development doesn't add anything to the neighborhood; it detracts and puts up another obstacle between residents and the river. This isn't an "urban" proposal fit for a residential neighborhood as AAA claims. It's also worth noting that Pennsport residents aren't opposed to development. We keep having to fight bad development plans like Foxwoods and AAA.

  2. Contrary to what was said at the meeting if AAA decided to move the business another auto related business WOULD NOT BE PERMITTED. The fact is the permit was applied for the day before the Master Plan was codified. The AAA attorney should have been fully aware of the necessity to submit a POD before applying for the permit. That's their expertise.