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January 21, 2023

Cobbs Creek Golf Course receives zoning approval despite environmental concerns

The historic city-owned course got support from the Philadelphia City Planning Commission for an exemption to build on steep slopes, a provision put in place to prevent runoffs and erosion

Recreation Golf
Cobbs Creek zoning approval Provided Image/Cobbs Creek Foundation

Cobbs Creek Golf Course cleared another hurdle to move forward with its renovation project. The historic course received an exemption allowing for taller buildings. The property is also exempt from restrictions that stop construction on steep slopes.

The Cobbs Creek Foundation jumped another hurdle to restoring the historic Philadelphia golf course now owned by the city.

This week, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission voted to approve exemptions allowing the golf course to construct taller buildings and clear them from restrictions on steep slopes, a provision to prevent runoffs and erosion. Ultimately the bill has to be approved by City Council and signed by Mayor Jim Kenney.

Philadelphia City Council member Curtis Jones amended a zoning overlay bill he introduced in November partly due to concerns raised over the construction on the golf course.

During the council's meeting on Thursday, Jones made some concessions, including giving an 18-month time frame to use the exemption. However, he also specified that inaccessible surfaces couldn't be built on the golf course's steep slopes, WHYY reported.

Detractors of the exemption testified during public comment on Thursday. Henry Davis is a member of the Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition. He said that the lack of transparency and input from the surrounding communities during the process has been concerning and that constituents have not received enough information on the ecological impacts of this restoration project on the community.

However, the planning commission approved the exemptions. Cobbs Creek Foundation has said that the exceptions are necessary for the project, including a retention pond for irrigation, two golf holes, and a creek rehabilitation. 

Despite concerns of potential flooding issues during the construction of the renovated golf course, Mike Trumbauer, an ecologist working with the foundation, told WHYY that the course would only make up 4% of the Cobbs Creek watershed area.

"Further downstream, they probably would never notice the project happened, the renovation or the creek restoration," Trumbauer said.

In November, the Philadelphia Arts Commission approved the plan for the restoration project, which includes a new driving range and an education center.

The golf course, which opened in 1916, has deteriorated over the years, calling for a lot of vital work before it can open again. 

In January of 2022, Cobbs Creek Foundation unveiled a $65 million proposal to revamp the course into one that could once again host PGA events. However, environmental issues were raised over the decision to cut trees, which drew pushback from environmentalists and the arts commission, which oversees design projects for the city.

A compromise was met, with the foundation pledging to plant 1,500 trees and donate $250,000 to TreePhill, a city program that helps residents plant and cares for trees across Philadelphia. 

Jones' bill could not be passed without some recommendation from the Philadelphia Planning Commission. However, with concerns still abounding, he conceded that he would do so if there needed to be another amendment to the original legislation.

 The construction for the partial rebuild of Cobbs Creek's golf course was initially supposed to be completed by 2024.