Central Roxborough Civic Association Meeting Minutes
December 1, 2016
PECO CAP Program
CRCA President Don Simon told those present about PECO’s Customer Assistance Program to help lower-income people with their energy bills. PECO will be hosting a daytime Energy Fair to educate seniors about that and other services on Tuesday 12/6/16. If you’d like to attend, please register in advance via PECO’s website.
University of Pennsylvania Museum
Is hosting a free celebration which includes admission to the museum this Saturday (12/3/16).
Philadelphia Folk Song Society
Don Simon prefaced this update by noting that there are a few neighborhood social media sites where rumors, half-truths, and misinformation run rampant. Despite rumblings to the contrary, the Philadelphia Folk Song Society is coming to Roxborough. While they have encountered some unexpected bureaucratic red tape relating to the purchase of the church at Roxborough & Ridge, they have entered into a lease for the space formerly occupied by Sole II Soul Restaurant on Ridge Avenue in the meantime.
CRCA and other Northwest civic associations have been working with Matt Wysong at the Planning Commission on changing the zoning of numerous parcels and blocks in the area so that the classifications more accurately reflect the look and use of the properties. Mr. Wysong will be at the January CRCA meeting.
451 Green Lane Update
This was a proposal to demolish the existing home and erect a triplex which was previously presented to CRCA. The Planning Commission, Councilman Curtis Jones, and CRCA all vigorously opposed the project. The Zoning Board of Adjustment denied the request for a variance (multi-family not permitted there under zoning code), and the owner/developer appealed that decision to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. CRCA has hired an attorney and joined as a party in the
Common Pleas case, asking that the Court uphold the ZBA’s decision to deny the variance. Attorneys cost a lot of money, and CRCA can’t afford to hire legal representation for every project. We chose to zealously pursue this particular project because it is one of the first major tests of the Neighborhood Conservation Overlay that CRCA and many others spent countless hours getting enacted. If you would like to donate to CRCA, you may do so via PayPal on CRCA’s website
4136-40 Mitchell Street Update
Last month at CRCA there was a presentation regarding the by-right construction of a 72-unit apartment complex on Mitchell Street across from dog park with 10 or less parking spaces provided. Although the project is by-right (meaning it does not require ZBA to grant any variances), the scope of the proposal triggers the Civic Design Review process. On Tuesday 11/29 the developer attended a Committee meeting at the Planning Commission to review the project. The Committee made some suggestions and asked the developer to return for a follow-up meeting in January. However, the CDR committee has no enforcement authority, and Mr. Falso is free to continue with his original plans unaltered, despite concerns raised by the community, CRCA, Councilman Curtis Jones, and the Planning Commission.
Josh Cohen, assistant to Councilman Jones commented that they are working on creating legislation to close a loophole that allowed for Mr. Falso to add an additional story to the proposed building because he asserted he plans to put a “fresh fruit market” on the first floor of the building. While this extra height is allowed under the zoning code where the developer puts a fresh food commercial space in the building, this particular project serves as example of how the loophole is being exploited. Roxborough is not a “food desert”, and Councilman Jones’s office would like to see legislation that explicitly excludes certain neighborhoods or zip codes (like Roxborough) from the fresh food market/extra story loophole.
Ugly Moose Update
At an earlier CRCA meeting, a proposal was presented for a by-right project at the site of the current Ugly Moose/Deke’s. The proposal presented was for a commercial space with dining, day care, and other professional offices. The developer has apparently failed to secure enough tenants to make the project viable, and is now considering building a residential development at the site. Wissahickon Neighbors is the coordinating civic for that project. The Ugly Moose will be closing by year’s end.
CRCA Board Nominations
Don Simon presented a slate for consideration. The nominees were selected by the Nominating Committee of the CRCA board, and are the same people remaining in their current roles. They are:
President: Don Simon
VP: Lynda Payne
Treasurer: Neil Macdonell
Corresponding Secretary: Alex Fidrych
Recording Secretary: Elizabeth Fischer
Board Chair: Ed Hotham
Councilman at Large Al Taubenberger
The Republican Councilman-at-Large introduced himself to CRCA’s attendees and described his diverse background – from his degree in agronomy to his employment as a German wine importer. He currently serves as the Chair on the Committee on Aging in City Councils and sits on several other committees including Parks and Recreation and Global Opportunities. He encouraged those present to approach not only their District Councilperson when they have an issue or concern, but also the seven Councilpeople at Large, who work for the entire City.
Central Roxborough Surveymonkey Survey
A CRCA volunteer presented some preliminary results of a survey currently circulating on social media aimed at getting an idea of what residents want from this neighborhood. So far, 40% of respondents do not live in Central Roxborough (although they do live in the 19128/19127 zip codes). So far, the major concerns expressed by respondents are: overdevelopment, drugs/public intoxication, trash/neighborhood cleanup, more businesses on the Ridge, and parking enforcement. The survey is available on the crca.us website and will be available for a few more months. They would love to get some more parents or young families to respond.
344-50 Conarroe Street
This is a proposal for the construction of six townhouses at the site of the former Masonic Temple at the corner of Conarroe Street and Manayunk Ave. Daniel Lanni represented the development group with architects Logan and Sean (who are the architects who presented the proposal for 4136 Mitchell Street last month with a different developer). Variances are needed for lot size (1,440 sq. ft. required under code, proposed lots are just over 1,000 sq. ft. each) and front width (16 ft. required under the
code, proposed are 15’8 or 15’9). 4 houses (such as 2 sets of twins) could be built by right under the current zoning.
Mr. Lanni described the proposed townhomes as “indicative of the neighborhood”, each with a one-car garage and back door accessible from the rear. The architects described the exterior as a tumbled stone base with red brick and cast stone accents. There will be shallow bay windows surrounded by Hardie siding. While the structures could be as tall as 38’ under the zoning code, the choice was made to construct three-story homes only rising to 32’9” (not including the pilot houses). The pilot houses on the roof decks will be pushed back to minimize the perceived height. Back balconies will be located on the main living level. The brick and stone visible on the façade will be wrapped around the base of the rear, with Hardie panel siding on the rear upper level.
The lot purchased is about 6,000 square feet, so building six houses on the site would make each subdivided lot about 1,000 square feet in size. The zoning for the property requires a minimum lot size of 1,440 square feet, hence a variance is needed. The developer’s representative acknowledged that by right, they could build 4 houses, but he described such buildings as 20 feet wide and “squat.” He considers the proposal an improvement over the old temple and hopes to bring “life” back to the block with more “eyes and ears on the street.”
Each proposed townhouse is three stories with a basement, with a total of 3 bedrooms and 3 baths. The basement level would have an entertainment room and laundry/mechanical areas. The first floor would have a bedroom (like a mother-in-law suite) and bathroom with access to the garage and front door. The second floor would have the main living area, kitchen, dining room and access to a balcony overlooking the rear of the property. The third floor would have 2 “modest” size bedrooms, with one en suite bath and one separate bath. The roof level would have a roof deck.
The rear of the property would be set back 25 feet from the property line, so the buildings on the property would occupy about 60% of the lot where 70% development is permitted under the code. This 25’ setback would serve as the driveway and common easement for accessing the garages.
A CRCA Board Member commented that she would be happy to see residential housing put at that corner in lieu of the existing structure but wanted to know why the developer wouldn’t build a set of twins, or four total houses, as he could do by right. Mr. Lanni responded that his group builds what people moving to the area want, and he feels that his proposal is closer to the preferences of new residents.
A CRCA member noted the lack of green spaces in the proposal. She said that building twins rather than 6 rowhomes would permit yardage and greenery. Mr. Lanni responded by pointing out that the property adjacent to the site has a large yard. An architect added that increasing green areas would compromise parking options.
Another CRCA member commented that twins would allow for an option that wasn’t 100% impervious materials. Mr. Lanni said he would consider having a second look at his plans, but pointed out that as a developer, they are in the business of making money. He stated that he is not sure they could even break even if they only built 4 houses because of what they paid for the property. However, upon being asked, Mr. Lanni did acknowledge that the development group was aware of what was permissible under the zoning regulations at the time they purchased the temple site and thus knew that 4 houses were the max permitted by right. Mr. Lanni added that nevertheless, they are entitled to request a variance and go through the process to obtain relief from the requirements of the zoning code.
A meeting attendee asked what the developer’s plans were should the variance be denied. Mr. Lanni responded, “we’ll see”.
The owner of an adjacent parcel of land expressed concern that one side of the proposed structure, the one facing his property, would be windowless because the proposal has a building going right up to the property line (windows cannot be located within 8 feet of a property line). He said having twins facing Conarroe Street would be aesthetically pleasing. He also wanted to know about how trash for residents of the townhouses would be handled. He even stated that he would consider buying part of the property that abuts on his lot.
A neighbor on Conarroe Street was concerned about the proposed location for the driveway to the garages, which would run very close to her property and having windows from the townhomes looking down into her house. It was noted that there is already a curb cut on Manayunk Avenue for access to the rear of 365 Green Lane, and a curb cut next to that one would be more appropriate than one on Conarroe.
A citizen spoke up to inform Mr. Lanni that Central Roxborough is an “active neighborhood” that will fight projects such as this one that do not conform with the neighborhood. She said that zoning laws exist for a reason and that she felt the proposal was “hideous.”
A CRCA member who works in the civil engineering field commented that it was undesirable to build up to the property line at 365 Green Lane and not have windows facing that property. She also was not a fan of the utter lack of greenery. She inquired about the placement of utility meters, to which the response was that if they had to be located at the front of the property, they would be concealed under the front steps.
The CRCA district representative for the site asked the presenters to describe the 25’ rear set back. The response was that it was done in order to provide the required 24’ turning radius for parking.
A resident expressed concern that the rear of the property was north-facing, which could cause dangerous conditions in snow and ice.
A CRCA board member expressed concern about the lack of windows on the wall facing the property at 365 Green Lane, a house which has a historic designation and which CRCA and neighbors fought very hard to preserve.
Another neighbor stated that she was also happy to see a residential proposed use for the site, “but I want improvement on the property.” She noted that Manayunk Avenue has been faced with “walls” before and reminded those present that the Neighborhood Conservation Overlay was purposefully enacted to preserve the character and charm of Central Roxborough. She noted that many neighboring properties have porches, enclosed or not, but that little touches like that should be reflected in new construction. This project seems too dense, she suggested, and drew attention to some of the stately twins on Manayunk Avenue which provide green space for the owners.
Another attendee reinforced that having green space is a big deal in Central Roxborough and highly valued.
Mr. Lanni stated he would be unable to make any promises to the neighbors and/or CRCA that night because he was filling in for the person who was supposed to be there. Any changes to the proposal would have to be approved by the owner, the development group, and the architects.
A CRCA board member commented that it would be nice if they came back with a project everyone could be excited to support.
Don Simon asked Mr. Lanni if the developer would be willing to postpone the ZBA hearing and return to CRCA’s next meeting with a different proposal. Mr. Lanni responded that wasn’t his decision to make.
[The developer’s representatives and the architects left the meeting, in keeping with CRCA policy].
Don Simon presented a summary of the CRCA’s Zoning Committee’s assessment of the project: 4 lots could be built by right, there is no hardship, the neighboring lots are much larger than even the minimum lot size permitted by zoning (1,440, let alone 1,000), anything less than 1,440 square feet is completely out of character with the surrounding properties.
Neighbors continued to express their concerns, particularly about the driveway being located on Conarroe Street and the lack of green space.
Upon motion, a straw poll was taken to oppose the variance. The motion unanimously passed. (Everyone voted to opposed the project).
The ZBA Hearing is scheduled for 12/14 at 2 P.M. at 1515 Arch Street, 18th Floor. If you attend, please be sure to sign in and complete a form so that your attendance is noted and you will receive notifications of the outcome. If you cannot attend, you are encouraged to write a letter expressing your opinion.