Bassett Creek Valley rezoning unveiled

Valley’s long-term transformation in early stages

BRYN MAWR — The long-term transformation of Bassett Creek Valley took a small step forward when city planners unveiled their proposal to rezone the 230-acre wedge of land west of Downtown Aug. 9 at International Market Square.

Rezoning will lay the groundwork to redevelop the mostly industrial-use land into commercial, residential and office space, all centered on new parkland and a rejuvenated Bassett Creek. The Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan adopted by the City Council in January envisions that redevelopment playing out over 25 years.

Principal City Planner Tom Leighton said the proposed rezoning would shrink the amount of land zoned for industrial use and contain it near Downtown. The center of Bassett Creek Valley would be rezoned to accommodate multifamily housing and parkland.

To the north, along Glenwood Avenue, the rezoning is intended to spur mixed commercial and residential development. City planners intend to create a pedestrian overlay district around the commercial corridor to encourage development friendly to foot traffic.

A strip of land along Highway 394, to the south, would be rezoned for high-density office space.

The rezoning study was one of three key areas where the long-term vision for Bassett Creek Valley was finally becoming reality, Leighton said.

He said the planning process for a new park, located just to the north of Bryn Mawr Meadows, was also winding down, although construction was still years off. In the near term, a bid may soon be accepted for two large, city-owned parcels that eventually would make up part of the new park and the office district along Highway 394.

“We’re starting to move into implementation,” Leighton told the small group gathered at International Market Square.

Many in the audience were Bryn Mawr and Harrison neighborhood residents who have followed the process since redevelopment talk began a decade ago. Their questions for city planners mostly concerned the rezoning process and the impact it could have on Bassett Creek Valley’s property owners.

Leighton acknowledged he and his staff were “going out on a limb” by proposing a drastic rezoning that would make many of the existing businesses a nonconforming use for their property. Businesses that are nonconforming have a limited ability to expand their operations after the rezoning.

However, Leighton defended the plan, saying property owners were aware of the ongoing redevelopment talk and would not be surprised by the change.

Some neighborhood residents questioned rezoning to allow multifamily housing very near the valley’s small pocket of single-family homes.

Maura Brown of the Harrison said the close proximity of apartment buildings could make things uncomfortable for the current property owners, whose homes are clustered near the intersection of Humboldt Avenue North and 2nd Avenue North.

Carrie Juntunen, another Harrison resident, said those who live in or near Bassett Creek Valley are concerned new development might obscure their views of the Downtown skyline. Still, Juntunen, who lived just north of the proposed redevelopment area, reacted positively toward the rezoning plan.

She said the neighborhood was remarkably quiet, despite its proximity to Downtown. What it lacks are some of the amenities a commercial district might encourage, like new restaurants or a wine bar, she said.

Heather Wallace, who lives and works in Bryn Mawr, said the open house was her first introduction to redevelopment plans for Bassett Creek Valley. Satisfied that redevelopment wouldn’t negatively impact her business, Wallace left feeling “excited” about the potential change.

Leighton said the rezoning plan would be shown at one more open house Aug. 23. A 45-day public comment period would follow soon after.

He expected the City Council to vote on the plan as soon as December or January.

Reach Dylan Thomas at [email protected] or 436-4391.