East Mt. Airy residents prevail as abandoned site becomes public park
Philadelphia now has six more acres of public parkland, thanks to an effort kick-started by residents nearly 20 years ago.
The wild plot in East Mt. Airy, long used as a dumping site, has languished for decades. It was privately owned, but became public earlier this month after a deal brokered by the city's Department of Parks and Recreation.
"It is with great pleasure and satisfaction that I share with you that the city's acquisition of the Wissahickon East parcel is complete. It is officially ours," Mark Focht, the department's first deputy commissioner, said in a statement sent out to nearby residents.
Neighbors first organized around the issue around 1995. In 2004, they banded together under the banner of the Wissahickon East Project to push for the parcel to become a community asset.
"I assumed that this day would come, but there were certainly some times that it looked pretty bleak because these kinds of changes are not so easy to make," said Elizabeth Martens, who co-chairs WEP's board. "The developer needed to cooperate with it, the city had to be in a position to accept the land and that takes time."
The land was previously owned by DeSouza Brown Inc., which, at one time, considered building condominiums on the property.
The effort was halted in 2006 after a historical easement was placed on the property. The resident-led initiative, negotiated over several years, protected the land from development and effectively gave the city the opportunity to acquire the property.
DeSouza Brown later donated the land to the city after a bill to that end was passed in City Council.
Under the terms of the historical easement, the parcel, which straddles Cresheim Creek, will remain largely as-is save for a simple path. Now that it's parkland, the city and volunteers can access it freely to make sure it stays clean.
The first cleanup is scheduled for Dec. 7.
"The goal is to have the land in as much of a natural state as possible," said Martens.
The park, which runs along Cresheim Valley Drive off of Germantown Avenue, becomes public as Philadelphia considers creating a land bank to make it easier to put vacant properties to work.