Press Release

Philadelphia FDR Park Improvement Project Restarted With Pro Bono Help From Ballard Spahr

June 13, 2024

A $250 million project to protect and renovate Franklin D. Roosevelt Park in South Philadelphia is proceeding now that an injunction has been denied and three brief court-ordered stoppages lifted.

Ballard Spahr attorneys worked pro bono in attaining the court wins for the Fairmount Park Conservancy, a nonprofit organization designated by the City of Philadelphia as renovation project manager. Ballard Spahr lawyers from the firm’s Real Estate and Litigation departments worked closely with attorneys for the City, which owns the parkland, to overcome legal challenges before the City Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA), the Court of Common Pleas, Orphans’ Court, and Commonwealth Court.

The FDR Park Plan addresses the 348-acre park’s historic struggles with underfunding and frequent flooding. The plan calls for more trails, meadows, other natural areas, and water, as well as state-of-the-art youth and adult athletic fields—which will be elevated to reduce the impacts of flooding. The renovated park will also include concessions, a permanent home for the Southeast Asian Market, and a second signature play space.

The plaintiffs, a group of neighbors and other City residents, challenged a ZBA decision allowing the removal of 48 trees as part of the work to raise park surfaces out of the floodplain and construct new athletic fields and courts. Under the City’s zoning code, the removed trees must be replaced—and they will be. The current phase of the FDR Park Plan calls for the planting of more than 1,000 new trees.

The plaintiffs appealed the ZBA’s decision to the Court of Common Pleas. Concurrently, they filed suit in Orphans’ Court, asserting that the City lacked authority to undertake the FDR Park plan unless it received Orphans’ Court approval. After a brief stay, which was issued in the Court of Common Pleas until the Orphans’ Court case could be heard, Orphans’ Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument and concluded Orphans’ Court had no jurisdiction to hear the matter since FDR Park will continue to be used and operated as public parkland.

Plaintiffs appealed the Orphans’ Court decision to Commonwealth Court, which, after a separate brief stay, denied plaintiffs’ motion for an emergency stay pending appeal of the Orphans’ Court ruling and allowed the work to continue.

Most recently, the Court of Common Pleas granted the Conservancy’s motion to quash, thereby ending plaintiffs’ appeal of the ZBA decision.  

Ballard Spahr’s team was led by Matthew N. McClure, leader of the firm’s Zoning and Land Use practice, and included Meredith St. Clair Trego, Joseph J. Bailey, Devon Beverly, Nathan Farris, James E. Mills, Harry Weiss, and paralegal Janine Ebersole.

For media inquiries, please contact Bill Shralow at 215.864.8195.

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