Coming into the final year of his sixth term as Bensalem mayor, it should surprise few that Joe DiGirolamo plans to run for re-election in 2017.
“I live and breathe Bensalem,” DiGirolamo told the Times last week. “I enjoy helping people where I can, where the government allows us to help them.”
DiGirolamo was first elected in 1994, and wants to continue his 23-year tenure for at least five more. It’s clear DiGirolamo is thinking well into the future, starting with the township’s plans for 2017.
A large part of those plans is continuing the River Renaissance, the project to rejuvenate nearly 700 acres of riverfront property between Station Avenue and Street Road over the next 15 or so years.
Already, there are move-in ready luxury townhomes at Waterside, the “urban village,” constructed over 45 acres of the Delaware riverfront.
DiGirolamo said he wants to bring more technology companies to the area to join Smart Retail User Interface, a company already located there as a cornerstone of the development.
“That’s very high on my agenda,” he said. “To make the best use down there.”
Parts of the riverfront have been home to industrial companies for years. DiGirolamo wants to keep them, but bring along new, more progressive industries.
“We’re not throwing anybody out, but we want to create more jobs,” he said.
Other initiatives are more immediate, more community based. DiGirolamo said that the township will begin a community gardening program in the spring right next to the Bensalem Township Community Park, at Richlieu and Galloway roads.
“It’s something we want to do for a long time,” he said. “So we’ll do a prototype and see where it goes.”
The community garden will start small, choosing 30 people by lottery because of the limited space. Hopefully, DiGirolamo said, it can grow down the line.
Bensalem Township will also be celebrating its 325th birthday in 2017. While there’s no dedicated events to speak of yet, the occasion will be recognized especially during Community Pride Day in October and through the summer with the usual concerts at TD Bank Amphitheater.
“We’re going to hang our hat on the historical society to lead the way,” DiGirolamo said. “We’re already looking into it.”
The fate of some larger properties in Bensalem is still up in the air. DiGirolamo said that he does not yet know of any plans for the 30-acre Neil A. Armstrong Middle School property. The school district struck a $6.25 million agreement of sale with a company called 2201 Street Road, LLC in October.
“The only thing they can build there is homes on one-acre lots,” DiGirolamo said of the current zoning for the property.
To his knowledge, the company has not approached council about a potential use there. Township Council would have to greenlight any major zoning changes.
There is not yet a buyer for the property that houses the Shrine of Saint Katharine Drexel, which was put up for sale by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in May. The shrine would be moved, according to a press statement from Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, and the property sold.
“I’m so worried about that,” DiGirolamo said. “No big stores are going there. The traffic couldn’t take it.”
That’s the same deal as the Armstrong property — council would have to approve any proposed uses. DiGirolamo said he would fight to make sure the chapel stays there.
He had already approached representatives of Holy Family University and Holy Ghost Preparatory School, which both hold properties nearby, to gauge interest, but there was none at the time.
“One of them could come back in,” DiGirolamo said, but at the moment, it remains in the hands of the sisters.
The mayor will also continue his fight against the Sterling Act, a law that gives Philadelphia preemptive taxing power over communities like Bensalem. That has been an issue DiGirolamo has spoken on through much of 2016.
Repealing the Sterling Act would send about $2.5 million in earned income tax money from Philadelphia to Bensalem, collected from township residents who work in the city.
As for infrastructure, the mayor mentioned only one major project, the intersection at Mechanicsville and Byberry roads.
“We hope to have that done by spring,” he said.
The mayor will also continue to prioritize funding and support of the emergency services in Bensalem.
“Our police, our fire, our EMS, they’re second to none,” he said. “To continue to make sure we do that, that’s number one.” ••