Thanks for the Support: “Solar Farms in New Jersey Can Help Light the World, Preserve the Planet”

April 24th, 2012

As we approach our conceivably  last meeting in front of the zoning board in Hamilton Township tonight, which holds the destiny of the Black Solar Farm in Hamilton Square, Mercer County, we love to see the support from those who have been there in the town meetings from the beginning and sat through those seemingly endless nights of abuse over the proposed solar farm and what everyone would prefer to see done with Barry Black’s land, other than what he wants to do with it.

Trenton Times

Opinion: Solar farms in New Jersey can help light the world, preserve the planet
Published: Saturday, April 14, 2012, 6:20 AM

By Brian D. Haig

As financial troubles are casting long shadows across the state, New Jerseyans have little time for less immediate concerns. However, we must look toward the environmental future of our state.

There in an ongoing debate in Hamilton Township over a use variance request for 60 acres of what used to be farmland in the township’s Rural Resource Conservation Zone.

BKB Properties has proposed a sustainable plan to build 42,000 solar panels and housing on the property. While critics cite unsightliness, land loss and soil degradation, they fail to truly consider the benefits.

The issue of unsightliness is moot. BKB Properties plans to surround the site with fencing and landscaping that would hide the panels.

As for land loss, it is important to remember that this land is currently unused. Although it may once have been farmland, it has not been cultivated for some time.

While some may not consider the proposed solar farm ideal, it is far more productive than the land’s current state. What’s more, no other uses seem to have been proposed for it.

The fear of soil degradation is largely supported by speculation from experts who, while knowledgeable, admit that soil degradation is merely a possibility — one that other professionals have determined to be unlikely. The developers have said they will make efforts to preserve the soil’s fertility. One such plan is to cultivate low-lying crops under portions of the panels, which will help to keep the soil rich. With the opposition’s arguments adequately addressed, it is important to now look at the benefits.

Most of Hamilton’s energy is provided by PSE&G’s Mercer Station, which generates power by burning coal, gas and oil. The resulting emissions contain toxic particulate matter that contaminates the air we breathe and eventually even enters the water we drink. Also of great concern is the emission of greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming. The extent of the dangers posed by the emissions from PSE&G’s Mercer Station are made clear when we consider that, according to, the power plant is Mercer County’s leading source of pollution. In addition, the coal, gas and oil that are burned are non-renewable fossil fuels; they do not regenerate.

The proposed solar facility would be able to provide energy to 2,000 homes, using a renewable resource that has no adverse environmental impacts. And although the energy produced would not be able to replace the energy provided by PSE&G entirely, it would certainly decrease the amount of energy needed from burning fossil fuels.
We should also take note that only a portion of the 60 acres in question is intended to be used for the solar farm. BKB Properties plans to donate a segment of the property to a charity that will use it to build homes for disabled veterans returning from war.

The benefits of granting BKB Properties’ use variance request go beyond environmental preservation and supporting our wounded warriors. Additional benefits would be felt at the local level.

Building the facility would temporarily provide jobs for local construction workers and landscapers. This economic boost would help struggling families who rely on development for their living. And for the township, the facility would provide $70,000 in taxes annually. While this is not an impressive amount, it is certainly more than the land currently yields.

By allowing the construction of BKB Properties’ proposed solar farm, Hamilton residents would be taking one more step toward a sustainable lifestyle. The town might even inspire other parts of the county, the state or even the country to follow suit.

Even in these times of financial hardship, it is imperative that we work toward a better future, not only for our own state, but for the world. It is, therefore, only logical that development of the proposed Hamilton solar farm be allowed. The benefits will be felt at a local level immediately. And with time, the facility will play a small role in the struggle to preserve our global environment. The solar farm would provide Hamilton with sustainable energy from a renewable source and provide New Jersey with an example of an environmentally responsible township.

‘Environmentalists get heated over would-be solar site in Hamilton’

April 24th, 2012

Landscape Rendering For The Black Solar Farm

Isn’t that an oxymoron – “Environventalists get heated over solar farm” ?

Zoning board meeting March 13, 2012

HAMILTON –Tuesday night marked another long, tense zoning board hearing as environmentalists and witnesses testifying for the would-be developer of a massive solar site in Groveville squared off for a third time.

The site in question, a 60-acre property off Crosswicks-Hamilton Square Road, would become home to a ground-mounted solar site under plans presented by Hamilton-based developers Barry Black Sr. and his son Barry Black Jr., doing business as BKB Properties.

No decision on the site, which would require a use variance from the zoning board, has been made yet.

The board carried the hearing to a fourth meeting March 28.

The project is opposed by the environmental group Save Hamilton Open Space.

Tuesday night’s testimony focused mainly on how the 10-megawatt site — and its 42,000 photovoltaic panels — would be landscaped and screened from neighbors.

But with the testimony came no shortage of bickering between John Alice, an attorney for the developers, or Michele Donato, a lawyer representing Save Hamilton Open Space.

Zoning board attorney Michael Balint even got into it, chastising the two for arguing and telling Alice the plans he was presenting seemed to change from week to week.

“This seems to be a moving target and each time you come, we seem to hear something different about what it’s going to be,” Balint said. “You guys have said a lot of things so when I look through my notes, one week it’s one thing, the next month it’s something different.”

Much of the confusion stemmed from inconsistencies in setback and landscaping details.

The plan previously included a berm around the property that would be planted with trees and shrubs, but landscaper Jim Kerr, testifying on behalf of the Blacks, said berms are more trouble than they are worth.

He advised planting staggered rows of native species like evergreens and maples, as well as fast-growing shrubs like hollies, to hide the solar site from the road and residents who live nearby.

“We want to make it look as natural as possible, plants planted flush with the grade,” he said. “You have 30 feet of berms with plants jammed in, and it looks horrible.”

Other witnesses, including a field biologist and professional planner and engineer, testified on the likelihood of the land retaining its agriculturally rich soils and how the site would fit in with Hamilton’s new solar ordinance, which attempts to restrict large-scale solar projects to industrial areas of the township.

Most of the opposition to the Black project has stemmed from its location in the rural resource conservation zone, a stretch in Hamilton’s southeast corner that remains one of the least developed parts of the sprawling suburb.

“This site’s location is not manufacturing along the river or an industrial zone in the north, but I think it’s an appropriate location,” planner and engineer Tim Kernan said.

Nearby residents and members of Save Hamilton Open Space disagreed.

“Hamilton has very limited amount of open space left,” Save Hamilton Open Space president Ed Pfeiffer said. “About 11 percent of Hamilton remains undeveloped at this point and most of it is in the rural resource conservation zone.”

A group of union carpenters and construction workers, including Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton) sat in on the meeting. They have supported the project as a much-needed job creator.

Pfeiffer and others said the solar installation jobs would be only temporary, but construction worker Joseph Sary said the ailing construction market could use all the help it can get.

“We need this work,” he said. “This isn’t just putting money in our pockets, it’s feeding our family, paying our mortgage, allowing us to stay in this township.”


Letter to the Solar Transition Work Group in Response to the OCE Staff Straw Proposal released on March 6, 2012

March 8th, 2012

Submitted March 7, 2012

Dear Mr. Winka,

Thank you for your efforts to date in facilitating the Solar Transition Working Group. We are writing to you in order to make several suggestions to the OCE Staff Straw Proposal released on March 6, 2012, as well as to voice several concerns regarding issues we did not see mentioned in the Straw Proposal. We understand that the purpose of this Straw Proposal is not to fix all obstacles facing the New Jersey solar industry, but we believe this is as good a time as ever to address the following issues:

  • Treatment of usable farmland – As you may know, Southern New Jersey is home to substantial farmland acreage. A portion of this farmland is currently not farmed, and a small percent of this unused portion had been approved for housing developments before the economic downturn. However, most of the developments never came to fruition, and now New Jersey farmers are eager to participate in the burgeoning solar industry, but farmland classification and zoning procedures are unclear. We would like to see clearly established procedures defining which organizations, and what criteria will be employed to identify “usable” farmland.
  • Adjustable SREC Scale – We believe extending the EDC SREC program by the suggested capacity will do little to support a suffering, but determined solar industry. This does not eliminate the static demand curve that was partially responsible for the downturn in the New Jersey SREC market? The Board and OCE should take this opportunity to re-examine the SREC market structure, and create a mechanism that will prevent future market collapse. As proposed by the Rutgers CEEEP team several months ago, an adjustable SREC target that uses past years capacity installation data to determine the upcoming SREC target, combined with a reduced ACP, will prevent future SREC market collapse, and allow New Jersey to hit its RPS target in an economically responsible manner.

Solar PV has the potential to save New Jersey cities and towns a significant amount of money on utility bills. This should not be overlooked when examining the SREC market, especially in a world of constrained budgets. We believe a provision for “community solar” should be included in the SREC carve-out.

  • Community Solar – Cities and towns should be encouraged, via a community solar carve-out to host solar arrays. Contracting solar power is an effective way to hedge against future electricity price increases, and save money in the present as well. This will allow municipalities to spend less on utilities and more on vital, municipal programs.
  • In order to give New Jersey cities and towns the lowest energy price possible, long-term SREC contracts should be available to community project developers.

Thank you for your time,


Clay Rager

Rager’s Comments in Response to Senate Bill 2371 Concerning Solar Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards

March 8th, 2012

Rager’s comments in Response to “An Act concerning solar renewable energy portfolio standards, energy efficiency and renewable energy and amending P.L.1999, c23.”  Submitted January 9, 2012

  • Renewable Energy Classification
    • Efforts to create requirements for different sized solar projects are welcomed. The large-scale solar industry is fundamentally different from the small residential industry. While language in the revised Bill places a ceiling on the allowed percentage set aside for systems under 20 kW, a floor percentage is also advisable.
  • Registration Program
    • A registration program for the purposes of ensuring power reliability is certainly appropriate so long as the administrative process is not overly burdensome and that information requested is reasonable.
    • Will unsatisfactory information submissions prevent a project from interconnecting and how will the EDCs be involved? What is the ultimate purpose of this registration process?
    • What purpose does the filing fee serve?
    • Is this related to Interconnection Fees?
    • Why was March 2012, Impact Study parameters arbitrarily chosen as the Grandfathered Date?  If selecting a date it should be Either Prior to January 2012 or “those who have entered the PJM “queue” and have an interconnection point of connect as scripted in the feasibility study as “PJM” states after you have a connection its yours to lose.  PJM has determined a project has a connection as stated in the first study “Feasibility”, not “Impact”.  The project owner runs con-currently with the remaining studies by submission to township, county and state agencies approval is to say as stated in the ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE SUBSTITUTE FOR ASSEMBLY, Nos. 4226 and 3731 per Impact study is not acceptable.
  • ITC
    • Efforts to supplement the 30% ITC at a state level should it not be extended is applauded.
  • Long-term Contracts
    • Long-term SREC contracts will certainly help developers and system owners obtain low interest financing for solar projects. The language in revised Bill is vague as to what percentage of the total GWhr requirement can be purchased under contract and what size facilities will be eligible for contracts.
    • The language needs to be explicit in how an electric public utility will offer contracts, to whom, at what price and for how long.
    • Will the “competitive process” be uniform throughout the state, or will utilities be able to devise their own process?
    • Would like to see 10MW and under offered
  • Public Utility Project Ownership
    • Efforts to monitor the impact of utility owned, SREC generating projects is applauded.
  • Revised SREC Schedule
    • The accelerated SREC schedule shows commitment to a robust solar industry in New Jersey
    • Parameters for adjusting the SREC schedule in the future are important.
  • Revised SACP Schedule
    • In combination with the ability to engage long-term contracts, the revised SACP schedule is reasonable.
  • COMMUNITY SOLAR  (Township’s Host)
    • Add Provision for Community Solar for the Municipalities who host the larger solar farms of systems ((A proposed solar facility that is greater than five megawatts in capacity)) of 5MW to 10MW within 5 miles of municipal consumer to have a bilateral agreement with generator to offer a 30% reduction of the town’s electric bill, which in effect will benefit the town, ratepayers and all parties:
      • When power is wheeled to town The EDC will charge fees according for the distribution, for example, .02 cent/kWh
      • SREC generating long-term contract to apply to their RPS
    • This should be the only Community Solar provision offered in the bill for providing a vehicle for the State to reduce taxes indirectly to the rate payers through offering the town the freedom to allow solar farms in their area to reduce budgets
    • This also will help and can be added to the efforts of the Sustainable Jersey Clean Energy Program

Comments Submitted to the Solar Transition Work Group

March 8th, 2012

The following comments were submitted by Rager Energy Consulting to the Solar Transition Group and stakeholders on December 2, 2011:

My name is Clay Rager and I am submitting comments on behalf of Rager Energy Consulting (Rager). Submitting comments is an important part of the policy making process and I think I speak for the Solar Alliance and the greater stakeholder community when I say thank you for the opportunity to be heard.

New Jersey has become one of the nations leaders in solar installations since the inception of the SREC market. The state has set ambitious solar goals, which the New Jersey solar community has risen to meet and surpass, while simultaneously reducing the cost of solar installations. In the process of meeting ambitious generation goals, the solar community has brought solar investment money into the state, created  white, blue and green collar jobs and developed a healthy industry that is working hard towards becoming independent of subsidies.

While the local solar community is making every effort to bring down the cost of solar installations, most solar projects are still reliant on SREC sales in order to bring project payback periods and PPA prices down to manageable levels.

In the last year, we have witnessed volatility in the SREC price as a result of supply outpacing demand. I fear that less than desirable SREC prices will slow the pace of the development and pump the brakes of a growing industry that is creating jobs and bringing in money during slow economic times while gradually reducing our reliance on traditional generation technologies. Volatility in the SREC market adds risk to solar projects, and ultimately increases the cost of doing business.

The New Jersey solar industry has proven itself capable of meeting even more ambitious generation targets than those currently set. Ramping down the solar industry by allowing the SREC market to govern itself will lead to decreased investments in the solar industry, anemic margins and ultimately unemployment, as too many developers compete for too few jobs.

If a rigid, vertical demand curve in the SREC market is maintained, I fear that it will lead to boom and bust cycles in the New Jersey solar industry, much like the expiration of the federal wind production tax credit in the past has led to detrimental lapses of wind installations in years it had expired. The state of New Jersey cannot afford to slow down one of the few industries creating jobs, as well as environmental benefits in these times.

Volatility not only hurts project owners, developers, installers and financiers, but can lead to frustration from the utility perspective as well. Several solutions have been proposed to reduce volatility in the SREC market, such as price floors, and increasing SREC quotas. Price floors will do little to quell market volatility, and as the price of solar drops, a price floor will artificially inflate the true cost of solar on ratepayers. Increasing the SREC quota is unfair to LSEs attempting to budget for SREC payments.

As proposed by the Center for Energy, Economic and Environmental Policy at Rutgers, I advocate investigating the implementation of a downward sloping SREC demand curve as the primary tool for reducing SREC market volatility. A downward sloping demand curve would limit the impending slowdown of the New Jersey solar industry that is imminent if no action is taken, by creating a market for excess SRECs to sell at a discounted price. Providing the New Jersey solar industry with an opportunity for growth will bring down the cost of solar more rapidly than if the industry were allowed to shrink by enabling innovation and learning.

It should be clear that we recognize the importance of limiting solar subsidies’ burden on ratepayers as well as the need for LSEs to be able to budget SREC payments in the coming years. Employing a downward sloping SREC demand curve can limit the maximum SREC cost to ratepayers by pricing the excess supply SACP based on the amount of excess SRECs. In other words, the more excess generation, the lower the price of the SACP beyond SREC targets that have already been set.

Another tool for reducing SREC market volatility is enabling and requiring long-term SREC contracts. SREC prices in long-term contracts have proven to be much lower than those traded on the spot market. Long-term contracts also give investors the confidence they need to invest in solar projects.

If both these elements are implemented into and in support of the New Jersey SREC market, SREC prices will be pushed down due to decreased cost of doing business as well as industry learning. The end result is a decreased dependency on solar subsidies such as the SREC, and a self-sustaining industry that will continue to create jobs and environmental benefits for the state of New Jersey.

If the goal of the SREC market and carve-out was to develop a solar industry, lets allow the market to create the strongest industry possible, and remove market flaws that are holding the industry back.

RPS Acceleration

January 7th, 2012

The New Jersey solar industry potentially faces a difficult year ahead while it recalibrates after overshooting the ambitious Solar RPS goals set for the 2010-2011 REC trading year. If the Solar RPS is not increased, solar installations in 2011-2012 energy year will likely be significantly fewer than in 2011 due to a significantly reduced market SREC price and increased hesitation among potential solar hosts.

In order to stave off an industry pullback, which inevitably means loss of current jobs and few new hires if any, the Solar RPS should be increased for the 2011-2012 REC trading year. The amount of the increase should be ambitious, but achievable, considering the New Jersey solar industry’s impressive history.

Increasing the Solar RPS, of course, only offers a myopic and temporary solution. It is quite possible that this problem of installing too much solar PV will happen again, and we then find ourselves in the same situation as we are now. The BPU should take this opportunity to not only review the Solar RPS target and escalation rates, but to also reassess SREC market design.

Until the summer of 2011, New Jersey SREC prices had consistently traded higher than any other SREC market. This was good for developers, but bad for utilities and ratepayers (as evident in the 0.090 cents/kWh attributed to the Solar Renewable Credit Ratepayer Impact to both C&I and residential customers). Now that the market has collapsed, developers are struggling, and fulfilling the Solar RPS requirement is markedly cheaper for utilities. Significantly diminished SREC prices do not just impact new installations, but also existing projects (especially smaller projects) that rely on SREC income. We are confident that SREC price guessing game is not favorable to either developers or utilities.

The SREC market is different than other ‘free’ markets in that there is a predetermined, vertical demand curve supply must meet. In this scenario, the ramifications of utilities not meeting requirements, and solar industry overshooting the target are unnecessarily costly. Neither side need be exposed to such risk. An ideal Solar RPS and SREC market would reduce risk to buyers and sellers, while achieving flexible, ambitious Solar RPS goals.

The major difference between the current design and an ideal design is the ability to engage long-term SREC contracts. Long-term SREC contracts not only reduce the risk to developers and utilities; they will also reduce the burden on non-participants and diminish the importance of the SACP. Long-term contracts will allow utilities and developers to settle on a fair SREC price. Utilities benefits include improved Solar RPS compliance cost forecasting as well as reducing the burden on ratepayers since developers will likely be willing to accept a lower SREC payment in exchange for risk reduction. Banks and other solar lending institutions will likely offer more favorable lending rates to projects that sell SRECs under contract than play in the market, therefore decreasing the need for high SREC prices to cover high risk interest rates. Since the Solar Renewable Credit Ratepayer Impact makes up the majority of the cost associated with Solar Energy Policy, and contracted SREC deals will likely bring the price of SRECs down, the 2.5% figure attributed to Solar Energy Policy on the average residential electricity bill will likely decrease as well.

It is also worth asking how new lease accounting rules proposed by FASB and IFRS will impact utilities’ balance sheets with respect to utility developed solar PV. The new rules may make it undesirable for utilities to develop solar PV, and thus require them to play in the SREC market instead of navigating around the SREC market by leasing Solar PV facilities. While this is mere speculation, the new rules could place increased importance on SREC prices, and heightened importance on market stability for utilities.

The other change to market design is the ability to adjust the Solar RPS target based on a number of factors, including the strength of the market, pace of installations and cost to ratepayers. This may seem unfair to utilities however, there is a greater degree of predictability if all parties are aware of the conditions that would warrant an adjustment to the Solar RPS. Adjusting the Solar RPS also does not have such an impact in a market where the majority of SRECs are contracted because utilities have much more certainty of future Solar RPS compliance costs, and there are fewer developers playing in the market with non-contracted SRECs.

Just two small adjustments to the existing Solar RPS and SREC market could solve many of the challenges faced by the industry today. We recommend that the BPU take this opportunity to examine the future of the Solar RPS in addition to making more immediate adjustments needed to keep the industry afloat. We thank you again for the opportunity to voice our concerns.

Proposed Solar Farm & Veteran Housing

December 16th, 2011

Tuesday evening Rager Energy joined Barry Black and BKB Properties at the Hamilton Township zoning board meeting to propose a 10 MW solar installation.  Barry Black and his family have a comprehensive plan for cultivating low-lying crops under a section of the solar panels and donating four building lots to the Thomas Jerome House, a non-profit organization created to help disabled veterans after they return from war.

Crying Ain’t Going To Grow Anything Back (Video Of Tyler Southern)


HAMILTON — The township could become home to a third major solar site if a local developer wins approval to install 32,000 panels on a 64-acre tract of land.

Developer Barry Black proposes a so-called solar farm in Hamilton’s southeast corner, pitting residents in favor of more solar against those who want one of the township’s last rural areas to remain untouched by development.

“When I bought my house, this was supposed to be the last rural vestige in Hamilton, and I truly feel it should be kept that way,” said Harold Dunn, one of dozens of residents who showed up for a zoning board hearing Tuesday night.

Others, including a few electrical and construction workers, pointed out that a new development could provide jobs and tax dollars.

“The economy the way it is now — it’s terrible out there,” said a resident who works in the construction industry. “We need these jobs.”

Located on Crosswicks-Hamilton Square Road near the back entrance of the Hamilton Marketplace shopping center, the site is made up of two lots covered in fields, woods and wetlands.

Black and his company, BKB Properties LLC, envision covering those lots with thousands of crystalline, photovoltaic panels that would absorb sunlight and generate 10 megawatts of electricity to be fed back into the local power grid. To get an idea how much power 10 megawatts would provide, PSE&G’s national solar initiative called Solar 4 All aims to develop 80 solar megawatts, and that would be enough to power 13,000 average New Jersey homes.

The land BKB Properties is targeting is inside Hamilton’s rural resource conservation zone, so the company requires a use variance from the zoning board before any construction can begin.

The developer has also said he intends to subdivide the property and provide land to the Thomas Jerome House, a nonprofit organization looking to build housing for soldiers returning home with traumatic brain injuries.

But at Tuesday’s hearing, the board reviewed only the solar plan.

Michael Mueller, a planner testifying on behalf of Black, reminded zoners that renewable energy projects are considered inherently beneficial under state law.

That makes it easier for solar applications to pass local muster.

The zoning board has already approved two other solar facilities, a PSE&G project on South Broad Street and another on Yardville-Allentown Road that’s roughly the same size as Black’s proposed project.

“I think we do want to build upon what you looked at last year with the other two applications,” Mueller said. “We want to be better than those. We want to provide a better standard.”

The board came to no decision Tuesday night and the hearing was carried to a special meeting at 7 p.m. on Jan. 31.

Onion Flats Chosen

December 16th, 2011


Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority Selects Rivage Developer

Onion Flats Chosen to Develop Residential and Retail in East Falls

Philadelphia, PA- The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) Board has selected local developer Onion Flats to develop the Rivage site in the East Falls section of Philadelphia.  The Onion Flats proposal “The Ridge” will bring 126 residential units and 8,700 square feet of retail to the currently vacant parcel bordered by Kelly Drive, Calumet Street and Ridge Avenue.

“Onion Flats has proposed an exciting development that will create a spectacular gateway to East Falls,” said PRA Executive Director Ed Covington. “The sustainability features will place “The Ridge” on the cutting edge of development, not just in Philadelphia but nationally.”

“The Ridge” will be a five-story building with one- and two-bedroom rental units.  The retail space will be located along Ridge Avenue and Calumet Street.  It will also include a 20,000 square foot community garden and a River Terrace along Kelly Drive.

“The Ridge” will also be Philadelphia’s first and the nation’s largest net zero energy mixed-use residential-retail community.  Net zero energy means that the development’s net energy consumption will be zero.  All energy required for heating, cooling, lighting and domestic hot water will be generated on site.

Other sustainability elements will include:

• Green roofs over 100 percent of the built area

• A 300 kilowatt photovoltaic solar array

• Parking for Zip Cars and charging ports for electric vehicles

• Interior bicycle storage for all residents

“The Ridge” is also expected to consume 50 percent less water than traditional developments.

“The design of “The Ridge” is unlike anything seen before in Philadelphia,” said Covington.  “It will completely transform the way Philadelphians view residential and retail development and set a new standard for our city.”

The PRA board approved preliminary selection of Onion Flats as the developer for the Rivage site at its December 5, 2011 board meeting.  PRA and Onion Flats have until June 2012 to enter into a full redevelopment agreement.  That agreement will include a final sales price for the parcel and the development’s specific design and sustainability features.  Construction will begin after all approvals are obtained and financing is in place. Construction is expected to start to early 2013.

Vote Onion Flats

November 14th, 2011

The Onion Flats design incorporates a community garden and viewing platform to the river and running/biking trails to the park (Photo courtesy of Onion Flats)

The Onion Flats design incorporates a gateway sign, bike racks, planters and a river terrace (Photo courtesy of Onion Flats)

Vote here:

Two very different development groups, presenting two very different plans for re-visioning the Rivage site in East Falls, made their pitches to a well-attended community meeting Wednesday night.

Onion Flats LLC and FCP-East Village PA are the two finalists hoping to be appointed by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority as developers of the city-owned site, which sits at the gateway to East Falls on the corner of Kelly Drive and Calumet Street.

Tim McDonald, president of Onion Flats, presented their plan for The Ridge, a blend of 126 one- and two-bedroom apartments with 8,700 square feet of retail space in a project designed to be “net-zero energy” — the entire complex would generate much of its own heat through extensive use of green roofs, a solar array, and other building techniques.

Onion Flats, which is actually a group of locally-based companies that do everything from design work to manufacture of many building components, also developed Rag Flats and Thin Flats, residential projects in other parts of the city, using similar principles. This would be their largest residential effort in Philadelphia so far.

“We are a composite and a series of seamlessly integrated companies,” McDonald said, “all the same people, with the ability to control the process.”

Because part of the property lies in a floodplain, making underground parking a risk, The Ridge puts parking at street level behind a row of retail along Ridge Avenue. Then, it raises the entire project above the parking, creating a “second ground” of garden landscape on the second level of the site. If they won approval from the RDA at its December meeting, McDonald said, they would project about a year to complete purchase of the site, with construction finishing in spring, 2014.


The night’s second presentation came from David Stubbs and Brian Davis, representing another group, FCP-East Village PA. In 2007, Stubbs and Davis were part of another group that won the right to redevelop the site into a project called East Village. After several extensions, they were unable to secure funding and complete the purchase of the site, and they eventually withdrew their plan.

Given that, much of their presentation focused on what they say is a strong development group this time around, with a solid financial backing through Federal Capital Partners, a $500 million real estate portfolio looking to make inroads into the Philadelphia area.

As for the plan itself, the new version of East Village is similar to the last one, with some adjustments in the number of residential units. The latest plan calls for 163 one- and two-bedroom units, eight live-work units, and ground story retail with two buildings.

The most intriguing part of their plan was what they called Gustine Walk, a 45-foot wide public space that goes through the interior of the site. It would feature retail uses along the sides with public space in between, reminiscent of a “green” version of Liberties Walk in Northern Liberties.

The Onion Flats proposal, by contrast, puts most of its public space along Kelly Drive in a public patio space meant to draw walkers and bicyclists up into The Ridge, but the residential community itself is more self-contained.


Gina Snyder, director of the East Falls Development Corp., said to keep in mind that designs weren’t final, so the plan chosen could change to incorporate changes the community asks for.

After the presentations, members of the public were allowed to submit comment cards with questions for the developers.

For both, the first question asked was why the plans didn’t include an upscale supermarket “like a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s” — unlikely at the Rivage site as the 1.6-acre parcel isn’t big enough for either and would put a supermarket, however nice, on a showcase property steps from the Schuylkill River bank.

Overall, crowd sentiment from about 100 people who packed into a classroom on the Philadelphia University campus seemed to favor the Onion Flats plan, described by several who attended as “imaginative,” “different” and forward-looking in its approach. Several neighbors who spoke said they thought the Onion Flats plan would attract a desirable demographic of young, hip, environmentally-conscious residents.

“I don’t think you can overlook the hipster quotient in East Falls,” said Deborah Thorp.

The East Village proposal, on the other hand, was described as less original and backward-looking — in slides, it appeared almost interchangeable with some of the developers’ other projects, in Washington, D.C. and Durham, North Carolina, from the first-floor retail design to the mansard roofs on the apartments above.

The Onion Flats design calls for staggered stacks of five-story buildings with exposed exterior walkways and a post-modern aesthetic, with apartment units connected by 20,000 square feet of community garden spaces. While even some architects and designers who attended the meeting praised the design, there was some concern that what looks like a bold, striking design today could look dated and out-of-place in 20 years.

From here the RDA will collect feedback and consider both proposals through an evaluation team that includes Snyder and Meg Greenfield of the East Falls Community Council.

Contact Amy Z. Quinn at


Thank you to all who came out to the Tinton Falls Groundbreaking Ceremony

November 7th, 2011

What a wonderful day.  Sandwiched between a rainy, dreary Thursday and a snow blizzard on Saturday, we sure lucked out having a sunny, slightly chilly ceremony for the groundbreaking event on Friday.

The ceremony began with renown Opera singer, Andy Fei, singing the National Anthem and concluded with backhoes being used for dirt shoveling.. apparently the shovels didn’t cut it (stay tuned for videos).  The entire ceremony was deliciously catered by Jimmy Pecci’s, A Taste of Italy, out of Tinton Falls.

Senator Jennifer Beck

Tinton Falls project manager Dave Schember, myself, Tinton Falls Mayor Michael Skudera