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2600 Penrose Ferry – Tidewater Grain Bldg

Case History

September 27, 2006: Commonwealth Court reverses the Zoning Board of Adjustment decision allowing 38,000 square feet of advertising space on the side of the Tidewater Grain Building.

February 27, 2006: Commonwealth Court hears oral arguments for the case. Preston Ship and Rail attempted to quash Scenic Philadelphia’s appeal based on Act 193 of 2004.

June 7, 2004: ZBA approved the request for variances. Court of Common Pleas later affirmed the ZBA ruling.

Background Information

The property owner is requesting a variance to erect 5 outdoor advertising wallwraps, with a total area of 38,744 square feet, which would blanket the exterior of the former Tidewater Grain building with commercial advertising. This building towers above the landscape and is highly visible from the gateway highways leading visitors to Center City from Philadelphia International Airport. This imposing structure is also visible to park users hoping to enjoy the bucolic setting of FDR Park and to the current and potential businesses operating in the Philadelphia Naval Business Center. The proposed variance violates 26 provisions of Philadelphia’s zoning code, including size, height, and number of structures.






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7146 Wissinoming

Case History

January 11, 2005: The Court of Common Pleas affirmed the Zoning Board’s denial of a request for variance.

October 27, 2004: Oral argument before the Honorable Annette Marie Rizzo, Court of Common Pleas.

March 22, 2004: Zoning Board refused to grant a variance for the outdoor advertising.

February 4, 2004: Owner appeared before the ZBA to request a variance.

June, 2002: L&I cited the owner for illegally erecting the additional sign. A $10,000 fine was assessed when the owner failed to appear for the scheduled hearing.

1975: A zoning permit was issued to erect a single-faced billboard at this address. Instead, two signs were erected.

Background Information

The proposed variance would legalize two existing billboards and install a third billboard structure on the property located at 7164 Wissinoming Street and the northwest corner of Wellington.

This variance request violated several provisions of the 1991 Sign Control Regulations:

– Located in Prohibited Area: within 660 feet of the ingress and egress of I-95; –

– Billboard is not allowed within 500 feet of an existing billboard;

– Billboards exceed the permitted height of 25 feet above the road surface to bottom edge of sign;

– Three sign faces exceed the allowable two sign faces on any one lot;

– Three support structures exceeds the allowable one support structure on any one lot;

– Violates the cap set on the amount of outdoor advertising allowed in the city, does not propose to remove any existing legal signage;

– Billboard is not allowed within 200 feet of a residential property

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Editorial: Fighting blight on a bigger stage

August 3, 2009

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Don’t get Mary Tracy started about those newfangled electronic billboards cropping up on the nation’s highways – that is, unless you have the time to talk.

The antibillboard activist and founder of Philadelphia-based Scenic Philadelphia- which bills itself as “the Public Voice for Public Space” – sees the flashing billboards as a bane to distracted drivers and the environment.


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Mary Tracy: New President of Scenic America

July 27, 2009
Contact: Lynn McConville

The Board of Directors of Scenic Philadelphia, the Public Voice for Public Space, is pleased to announce that Mary Cawley Tracy, a founding member and Executive Director of SCRUB, has been elected as President of Scenic America, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the visual character of America’s communities and countryside.


Ms. Tracy will remain at the helm of Scenic Philadelphia as she takes over leadership responsibilities at Scenic America.

Scenic Philadelphia began as a grassroots coalition in 1990 to stop the proliferation of billboards in Philadelphia. In 1991, Scenic Philadelphia effectively spearheaded the passage of a comprehensive sign control law. Since that time, Tracy has led volunteer attorneys and community partners in successfully challenging illegal billboards and in establishing legal precedents in land use law in Pennsylvania. Scenic Philadelphia is now at the forefront of advocating for public parkland, having recently coordinated the legal efforts to protect Burholme Park from institutional development.

Eric Elliff, chairman of Scenic America’s Board of Directors, announced Tracy’s election at the Summer Board Meeting of Scenic America held in Newport, Rhode Island. “We are thrilled to welcome Mary Tracy…given her extensive background in grassroots organizing and non-profit management, we are confident she’s going to do a fantastic job”. Lynn McConville, Chair of the Board of Directors of Scenic Philadelphia seconded Elliff and added, “Mary’s dual leadership positions provide Scenic Philadelphia with a wonderful opportunity to bring its expertise to the federal level and for Scenic Philadelphia to gain additional resources for its work in Philadelphia. Mary is known for her motivation, vision and tenacity and her ability to work with citizens, political leaders and administrative agencies to produce positive change. Scenic America and Scenic Philadelphia will both benefit greatly from her efforts”.

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Neighborhood Successfully Defeats Illegal Billboard


Today, July 24, 2009, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued an opinion affirming the decision of the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment which denied a variance request to allow an accessory sign to be converted into a non-accessory outdoor advertising sign.  The Applicant, 1700 Columbus Associates LLC, attempted to circumvent the zoning process by erecting an accessory sign advertising the parking lot for the on-premise business (see above picture) and then tried to argue that the conversion to a non-accessory outdoor advertising sign was a “mere change in the text” on the sign face.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Commonwealth Court were not persuaded by this argument and instead relied upon well-settled caselaw in Pennsylvania that (1) billboards or non-accessory outdoor advertising signs are distinct, separate uses from accessory signs and (2) an unnecessary hardship is required for the granting of a variance from the Philadelphia Zoning Code.  Surprisingly, the trial court Judge Esther Sylvester ignored this precedent and overturned the ZBA’s denial of the variance request, much to the disappointment of all of the neighbors and civic groups who had been following this issue.

This decision is certainly a victory for all of the neighbors who were involved with this zoning issue from the beginning.  Special thanks to Regina & Francis Kelly, Frank Alphonso and the Pennsport Civic Association for their excellent advocacy and for participating before the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

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Billboards in the Burbs

Summary Prepared by The Pennsylvania Resources Council on July 16, 2009

Over the past 11 months, Thaddeus Bartkowski, of Bartkowski Investment Group (B.I.G.) has made applications for 22 billboards to be erected in the following towns: Marple (7 Billboards), Springfield (7 Billboards), Haverford (5 Billboards), Newtown (3 Billboards) townships and Morton borough (1 Billboard). The sizes of the billboard faces applied for are 672 square feet (14ft. x 48ft.) except for one billboard application in Newtown township which was 1200 square ft. (20ft.x60ft.) billboard. When all of the towns rejected the applications for the billboards,B.I.G. challenged the validity of the sign ordinances and asked the zoning hearing boards for variances.

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Philadelphia’s Sign Code Held Constitutional

In a crushing defeat for Callowhill Center Associates, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Idee C. Fox issued an Opinion on July 9, 2009 which unreservedly upheld the ZBA’s denial in 2006 of a variance for a 9,750 square foot commercial advertising wall wrap.

Callowhill Center Associates (CCA) proposed the wall wrap at 417 North 7th Street in 2005. The owner sought to re-erect a seven story vinyl advertising wrap that he had illegally erected on the building in 1999. The building is located within the specially protected Vine Street Parkway Area which prohibits outdoor advertising signage.

After being denied a hearing by the United States Supreme Court, the owner returned to the Zoning Board again, this time arguing that the city’s outdoor advertising sign controls were “unconstitutional”.

In her July 9th decision Judge Fox disagreed:

“Philadelphia is a historical city: we pride ourselves on our monuments, our skyline and our history. The ZBA had more than ample testimony and evidence to establish the purpose of the ordinance in question.”

Judge Fox found that the city’s ordinances are constitutional and explained it this way:

“Although CCA[Callowhill Center Assoc.] presented testimony to show that the wall wrap advertisement at issue was safe and presented no hazard, they failed (to) establish that the ordinances in question were not constitutional.

CCA argues that these ordinances were enacted to appease a small group of individuals who find outdoor advertisements in general distasteful.

However, our democratic form of government ensures that ordinances of this nature are vetted through our elected officials who must balance the whims of individuals and groups with the safety and needs of our City.

In the balancing test CCA cannot overcome the City’s substantial need to maintain the area in question which includes the zoning and use restrictions at issue herein.”
The case has a long history, which began when Callowhill illegally erected the huge advertising wrap on its building in 1999.

Philadelphia is, indeed, a city with pride in our monuments, our skyline and our history. Scenic Philadelphia, the public voice for public space in Philadelphia is proud of our role in continuing to protect and defend this tradition.

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Judge Saves Burholme Park from Hospital

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Skyline Online

By: Inga Saffron

This just in: Orphans Court Judge John W. Herron Jr. has just issued an opinion denying the city the right to sell 20 acres of Burholme Park to Fox Chase Cancer Center. The park remains a park. ” The public trust doctrine, the appropriate rule of law applied in these circumstances, leaves no doubt and requires that the petition for court approval to lease Burholme Park be denied,” Herron writes. Read the decision here and my recent column here. More to come.

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Public-Private Conflict Over Philadelphia’s Public Spaces

The Legal Intelligencer

April 27, 2009

By: Rebecca E. Johnson, Esq.

The look, feel, and energy of Philadelphia’s public spaces reflect who we are. These public spaces – everything from the sidewalk to the skyline – belong to everyone, yet are owned by no one. It’s in these shared spaces that a growing tug-of-war is emerging between public and private interests, a conflict over using our shared, public spaces for private gain.

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Supreme Court Won’t Hear Burholme Park Case Under King’s Bench Power

The Legal Intelligencer

Friday, February 27, 2009

By Amaris Elliott-Engel Of the Legal Staff

The state Supreme Court has decided against exercising its King’s Bench jurisdiction to hear fast-tracked arguments over Fox Chase Cancer Center’s desire to expand its campus onto several acres of Burholme Park in Northeast Philadelphia.

The court denied Fox Chase’s application for extraordinary relief under King’s Bench jurisdiction in In re Estate of Robert W. Ryerss, Deceased in a per curiam order issued Thursday. Fox Chase is appealing Philadelphia Orphans’ Court Judge John W. Herron’s decision to deny Fox Chase’s and the city of Philadelphia’s application to let Fox Chase sublease a portion of the park in order to expand its highly trafficked medical facility.

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Fox Chase, loser in park ruling, wants to leapfrog to Supreme Court

Philadelphia Daily News

Fox Chase Cancer Center wants to skip Commonwealth Court and go directly to the State Supreme Court to appeal an Orphans Court judge’s ruling that rejected its planned $1 billion expansion into Burholme Park.

Fox Chase Cancer Center intends to file a “king’s bench” appeal next week to speed up the process, Fox Chase spokesman Tim Spreitzer said yesterday.

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Unisys Makes A Bid For Center City Signs

Daily News, Philly Clout

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

unisys_400Unisys, the Blue Bell-based tech firm that has signed a 15-year lease to relocate to Center City’s Two Liberty Place, spent two hours this afternoon trying to convince the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to let it hang giant corporate logos on the east and west sides of the building.  The company, which needs a zoning variance for the signs, faces opposition from the residents in newly converted condos in the building and an anti-blight group.

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VICTORY! City Council Pulls Park Bill!

Thanks to your support and outcry at the proposed City Council Bill allowing non-recreational, private uses on public parkland, Councilwoman Krajewski has pulled the Bill from City Council!

Early Tuesday afternoon at the Philadelphia City Planning Commission meeting, the Executive Director of the Planning Commission, Alan Greenberger announced that the Bill, referred to as Bill No. 090380, was pulled from the City Council calendar and therefore would not be considered by the Planning Commission.

Scenic Philadelphia will continue to follow this issue and other issues affecting our public space and keep you informed.

Thanks again to all who contacted their City Council members and the Planning Commission.