Central Roxborough Civic Association Meeting Minutes
October 5, 2017
Updates and Announcements
- CRCA President Don Simon announced that he attended a meeting of the Mayor’s Preservation Task Force last week. There will be meetings open to the public in the future, with one soon at Philly U.
- 451 Green Lane – Last year there was a proposal to demolish the existing single building on the sight for the construction of a triplex. CRCA vigorously opposed the proposal, and the Zoning Board of Adjustment denied the developer’s request for a variance. The developer then appealed to the Court of Common Pleas, which upheld the ZBA decision. The case has since been appealed further to the Commonwealth Court, where CRCA continues to oppose the project. Our legal fees are getting steep, donations greatly appreciated!
- CRCA has created a Parking Committee to deal with the constant issue of parking in our neighborhood. There will be a public meeting at the end of October, location TBA. We’ll keep you posted.
- Roxborough Development Corporation’s James Calamia reminded us that this Saturday, October 7, is the 5th Annual Roxtoberfest from 12-6 on Ridge between Leverington and Lyceum. This year featuring German folk dancers! Check out roxboroughpa.com for more info.
- Lisa Deely, one of three Commissioners of Election reminded the crowd that Election Day is Tuesday, November 7. Come out and vote! Every election matters. Citizens will be voting on DA, City Controller, and judges of various courts. Next Tuesday is the last day to register to vote, so hurry up and sign up!
- Josh Cohen of Councilman Curtis Jones’ office reminded us that he has an office on Ridge Avenue across from the custard stand. He splits his time between there and Councilman Jones’ City Hall office. Both locations have free, new, lidded recycling bins available for constituents. Councilman Jones has introduced legislation that would create a one-year moratorium on complete demolition of existing structures on Ridge Avenue from Wissahickon Creek to Northwest Avenue. He is engaging in meetings with stakeholders and hopes to pass the legislation by year’s end. This was motivated by the development of certain properties such as the Bunting House (now Wendy’s) that likely could have received historic designations had time been allotted to do so. A one-year moratorium would give interested parties that time they need to research properties abutting Ridge that might benefit from a historic designation. Anyone can nominate a property for historic designation, and you do not need to be the property owner.
492-496 Roxborough Avenue (corner of Roxborough and Ridge) – Presented by Attorney Bill O’Brien and developers Andy Mulson and Steve Olszewski. ZBA Hearing 10/18 2:00 PM at 1515 Arch Street, 18th Floor
This is a proposal for the subdivision of an existing lot at the corner of Ridge & Roxborough into 2 lots. On one lot, the existing church building would remain. On the other, the existing structure would be demolished and a 27-unit apartment complex with 27 interior parking spaces would be erected. The site is zoned RSD-1, and variances are need for the following: side yard (15’ required, 5’ provided), open area (65% required, 51% provided), and rear yard (30’ required, 7’ provided).
Don Simon provided a brief history of the site: In 1777, 40 members of Lee’s (father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee) Virginia Dragoons were on patrol in the area. The owner of the property at Ridge & Roxborough, the Woods family, invited the soldiers to stay on the property. Those that could not be quartered inside the residence went to the barn. British soldiers on patrol in Roxborough discovered them and set fire to the barn. Some perished inside from the flames while others were shot by the British as they attempted to flee the burning barn. 18 were killed, who were buried in Leverington Cemetery where an obelisk stills stands. There is a sign noting this on Ridge Avenue, but the location on the barn was actually on the Roxborough side of the property (the site of the proposed apartment building at issue tonight).
The developers have met several times over the past few months with CRCA’s Zoning Committee and have made changes based on input from those meetings. The original plan for 30 units with 27 parking spaces has been modified to 27 units (20 1-bedroom, 7 2-bedroom) with 27 parking spaces for a 1:1 ratio of units to parking. They have also shortened the proposed building to increase open space.
Attorney O’Brien explained that the RSD-1 (standing for Residential Single Detached) zoning classification has the most stringent restrictions of any classification under the zoning code. Under this classification, on the present sight, the only construction that could occur by right (i.e. without seeking a variance) would be 2 single family homes, and it would require the demolition of the church.
To preserve the church, all parties are willing to include a deed restriction on the parcel with the church (once subdivided) that would prohibit the church from being demolished. This process would begin at the ZBA hearing. The developers are willing to request and abide by a proviso that the church would not be demolished. Then, following subdivision of the lot, the deed to the church lot would contain a deed restriction prohibiting demolition of the church. The restriction would be filed as part of the record of the land with the Recorder of Deeds and would immediately come up as part of a title search, much like an easement. The deed restriction would run with the property regardless of future ownership.
Since the church is being preserved, the hope would be to find a commercial use for it, such as a restaurant. It would be a separate property following the subdivision, unencumbered by a mortgage, so financing could easily be obtained in order to make it suitable for commercial use.
Q: What is the price point on the apartments? A: About $1,200 for a 1-bedroom, $1,500-$1,600 for a 2-bedroom.
Q: The rental vacancy rate is almost 10% in Roxborough. We value home ownership here. Why do we need 27 more rental units? A: There is adequate parking and increased population will benefit the commercial corridor on Ridge.
Q: What’s the timeline on this project? A: If all variances are granted, we would like to break ground in Spring, with 18-24 months from then to completion.
Q: How will this affect traffic? A: The traffic issues are from traffic coming outside of Roxborough. We haven’t done a traffic study, but 27 vehicles are unlikely to have an impact.
Q: Would you lease the church or sell it outright? A: Depends on what the best fit would be. We will work with CRCA and RDC when we get to the point of using the church.
[The Presenters then left the meeting as per CRCA protocol and open discussion continued]. Here are some community comments:
- I own property nearby and am concerned about the construction, the impact this development will have on a family neighborhood, and traffic.
- As a Roxborough native, we’ve endured worse development than this. Preservation of the church is important. This looks like a one of the better developments in Manayunk/Roxborough. Hopefully this will encourage better development and better relationships between developers and the community to encourage projects that will embody the values and standards of Roxborough.
- As a resident and business owner, I agree with that last statement. This looks like more upscale development. Our problem in the community isn’t with the people who will likely live in these apartments…
- The plans presented tonight don’t mean anything as to the design. This is just for zoning purposes. Who knows what it will actually look like. The rents are too low to be considered “upscale”.
- I favor this project for 2 reasons. 1st, it will bring more foot traffic to Ridge Avenue. 2nd, it provides means for preserving the church.
- I’m worried that the lack of dedicated parking for the church building will doom any potential commercial use. Where would customers park? This concern was reiterated by multiple parties.
- I moved to this neighborhood because of the architecture. My main concern is saving the church.
- I’m a near neighbor and am concerned about losing privacy.
- The developers have been very forthcoming with meeting with the civic about this project. The property has been on the market for 4-5 years, and the church continues to deteriorate. If nothing is done, the church reach a point where it’s beyond rehabilitation. We need to ask ourselves whether the sacrifices we would be making to accommodate the apartment building would be worth it to save the church.
- I want to make sure that the terms of the proviso/deed restriction are known to the community by the time of the ZBA hearing.
- As a business owner, I think having more residents/people on or near the Ridge makes reuse of the church as a restaurant or whatever more desirable.
A straw vote was taken. This is for gauging community sentiment. The CRCA Board will make the final recommendation to the ZBA. 24 attendees voted to support the prosed project, 11 voted to oppose it, and 3 voted to not oppose it.
Want to get involved? Please do! Write a letter, submit a petition, or testify in person at the hearing (10/18 at 2:00 P.M.). Show up or send mail to
Zoning Board of Adjustment
1515 Arch Street, 18th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19102.