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By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Local environmentalists are thrilled by today’s approval by a City Council committee of new limits on development along the shoreline of the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers.

Approved today by the Rules Committee is a 50-foot buffer between the shoreline and any new construction.

The vote came after Councilman Bobby Henon withdrew an amendment that would have allowed private property owners whose buildings already encroach into the buffer to expand to either side.

With that revision gone, Joe Syrnick (top photo) of the Schuylkill River Development Corporation said the final legislation should satisfy both sides.

“It protects the environment,” he said.  “It allows for the possibility of future trails, but it also streamlines the development process, which is what a lot of people were looking forward to.  And we’re fine with that.”

But attorney Craig Schelter of the Development Workshop — a consortium of local developers — testified that the buffer restriction could drive at least one company out of town.

“This will directly lead to a major company that won’t be able to expand to their full potential,” Schelter told the committee, “and they are actively being courted by people outside of Philadelphia.”

Councilman Jim Kenney took issue with Schelter’s warning, saying that the city could easily provide that firm and others room for expansion away from the shoreline.

(Schelter:)  “When other cities are saying, ‘Here’s a site, here’s zoning — “

(Kenney:)  “But that happens every day!   Jersey’s trying to steal from us every day.  Delaware County, stealing stuff every day.  We steal back from them.  It’s the way of the world.  It’s dog eat dog.”

The final bill passed by the committee does permit certain types of firms to expand within the buffer by right — without needing a variance.   Those are maritime or other businesses that have a need to be in proximity of one of the rivers.

The measure now goes to the full Council for a final vote, which could come in two weeks.

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