Just before Earth Day, a coalition made up of over 20 community organizations based in neighborhoods surrounding the former PES oil refinery organized a press conference near the entrance to the 1300-acre site. The United South/Southwest Coalition for Healthy Communities is saying the company redeveloping the land needs to act on its stated values of ‘Sustainable Development for the Community,’ the message displayed on a nearby billboard. Hilco Redevelopment Partners purchased the site after a 2019 explosion to repurpose it into a warehousing and logistics center.
“Our Coalition came together to achieve a Community Benefits Agreement with Hilco, a legally binding contract between a developer and impacted residents that ensures communities benefit from major developments in their neighborhoods. After 150 years of oil refining in our communities, it is time we are invested in and we are at the table for decisions,” says Earl Wilson, Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition based in Southwest Philly.
Two recent Community Benefits Agreements, or CBAs, negotiated in Philadelphia have been at the Rivers Casino and Drexel University’s mixed-use Schuylkill Yards development. Currently in Philadelphia CBAs are optional for developers to enter into, but in 2019 City Council President Darrell Clarke introduced a bill that would make it mandatory for developments above a certain size to negotiate a CBA with impacted neighborhoods.
“The CBA process needs to begin now because the demolition of the refinery has been underway for months without oversight from nearby neighbors. Hilco has been planning for future land use without any public input at all, and there’s no commitment yet to hire from our neighborhoods. We know CBAs consist of long-term investments in parks and community centers, not Thanksgiving turkeys. It’s time for Hilco to stop playing games,” says Shawmar Pitts, member of Grays Ferry-based organization Philly Thrive.
At the press conference, the Coalition announced their demands for the site, including a commitment from Hilco to begin CBA negotiations with the Coalition, public involvement in redevelopment planning, and for Hilco to follow through on its promise of green, carbon-free development. including elected officials, university programs, and multi-issue organizations. Jasmin Sessoms, Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs for Hillco, said they were open to negotiating a CBA. “Let’s go for it” she said, “Send us the demands”.
“We support the Coalition’s leadership and a strong CBA because environmental justice looks like investment in communities hardest hit by pollution, and including those communities in future decision making. The City has taken steps recently to embrace environmental justice and this CBA must be part of that shift in Philadelphia,” says Maurice Sampson, Eastern Pennsylvania Director of Clean Water Action.
The Coalition is requesting Hilco meet in person, outdoors with the public on Saturday, June 4th in front of the “Sustainable Development for the Community” billboard. They will also announce dates for upcoming candidate forums to ask those running for state offices serving South and Southwest Philly about the refinery redevelopment and other issues impacting the area. Stay tuned for future developments.
The United South/Southwest Coalition for Healthy Communities was formed in February 2021, to develop and achieve a Community Benefits Agreement with Hilco, the company redeveloping the former oil refinery land. The Coalition is made up of 20+ community organizations representing all neighborhoods surrounding the developing “Bellwether District.” The Coalition is supported by dozens of citywide institutions, organizations, and elected officials who have formally endorsed the Coalition’s work and serve as an Advisory Board. For more information: https://www.unitedsouthsw.org/.