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Central Roxborough Civic Association Meeting Minutes
January 10, 2019

Philadelphia Department of Revenue

Vicki Riley from the Philadelphia Department of Revenue gave a brief presentation on assistance for homeowners for real estate taxes and on water bills.

While 96% of Philadelphians pay their real estate taxes in the year they are due, this is in part due to several assistance programs available to homeowners.

  • Homestead Exemption: no income guidelines and no age requirement. Any homeowner who resides in the property as their primary residence is entitled to take this exemption and receive $550 a year off their tax bill.
  • Low Income Senior Citizen Tax Freeze: this is an aged-based and income-based program that enables qualifying senior homeowners to “freeze” their current tax rate for the rest of their lives.
  • Installment Plan: Subject to income guidelines or senior citizen age, some homeowners may be eligible to pay their taxes on a monthly basis.
  • OOPA (Owner Occupied Payment Agreement): under this program, homeowners who owe back taxes can enter into a monthly payment program that will have the effect of making them considered “current” with the Revenue Department.

Water Bills: 2 situations when you should call the water bureau immediately:

  • Your bill has increased significantly: if there’s a problem, the sooner the City can get out there to assess the problem and check for a leak, the better for everyone.
  • You get an “estimated” bill: this means for some reason your meter was not actually read. If you call, someone can come out to do a reading and make sure your bill is correct.
Ms. Riley encourages anyone who needs more information to contact her. Her phone number (and she answers it!) is 215-686-6831. Her email is vicki.riley@phila.gov. The Revenue Department will open extended hours February 1 through April 15, 9:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. Monday-Friday and 10:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. on Saturdays.

State Rep. Pam DeLissio Town Hall

State Rep. Pam DeLissio of the 194th Legislative District will be hosting her next Town Hall on January 26 at 10:00 A.M. at Cathedral Village. The topic is why things DON’T get done in Harrisburg. She also has an office at 6511 Ridge Avenue and welcomes constituents there.

CRCA Officer Elections

The slate presented by the current board was approved with no opposition and no other nominations. As such, the Officers of CRCA are as follows: President Celeste Hardester, Vice-President Don Simon, Board Chair Lynda Payne, Treasurer Neil Macdonnell, Recording Secretary Amy Wilson, Corresponding Secretary Maryann DiGiacomo.

Zoning Process

CRCA President Celeste Hardester gave a brief overview of the zoning process in Philadelphia to the assembled group of over 80 attendees. Properties are assigned a zoning district and use. If a landowner wants to do something with the property that is not in conformity with what is permitted based on its zoning designation, that person will be issued a “refusal” when they apply to Licenses & Inspections. The applicant can then appeal to Zoning Board of Adjustment for relief from the requirements of the zoning code (through a variance or special exception). Prior to the ZBA hearing, the applicant must notify near neighbors and hold a public meeting with a Registered Community Organization (RCO, in this case the CRCA). At the public meeting, CRCA will take a straw poll of those present for consideration when the CRCA Board makes its recommendation to the Zoning Board of Adjustment about whether the civic supports, opposes, or is neutral about the proposed development.

Zoning: 4579 Mitchell Street

Owners Louise and Margot, with their attorney, presented their proposal to demolish an existing one-story garage on their property and replace it with a 2 story garage. The current garage is failing and does not conform to current zoning because it is not set back 9 feet from the property line. The proposal is to tear down the existing garage and rebuild with an additional level to be used for storage. The new structure would have the same base footprint as the current garage. Homeowners living adjacent to the property were in attendance and supported the proposal. “I’m fine with the project. That’s about it.” Louise and Margot have met with the owner of an 1800s farmhouse to make sure the additional height on the garage would not block sunlight to his master bedroom. In a straw poll, there was no opposition and an overwhelming show of support (exact votes were not taken due to the larger than usual attendance).

Zoning: 626-628 Leverington

Presentation by Attorney Henry Clinton and representatives from Harman Deutsch developers Adam Lisausky, Rustin Ohler and Steve Black.
  • Proposal to demolish an existing 1850s farmhouse and erect 14 townhouses.
  • Lot is approximately 37,000 square feet. The property is zoned RSA-2, which designates either detached single family homes or twins. Rowhouses are not permitted by right under RSA-2. This property is also within the Neighborhood Conservation Overlay district which sets standards for materials, setbacks, and design features.
  • The development team believes the existing house needs to be torn down. An engineering is investigating and will issue a report.
  • The designers have made modest changes from the ideas initially presented to CRCA’s Zoning, such as adjusting the setback of the first home to match that of adjacent properties and adding a front porch to the front-most house.
  • The townhouses would be separated into a row of 4 and a row of 10, with a common drive down the middle. The houses would face the common drive, rather than Leverington Street. Each house would have a one-car garage with a driveway sufficient long to accommodate a second vehicle. Each house would have a roof deck.
  • Exterior finishes would consist of metal roofing, cement board siding, and painted metal porch/deck aspects.
  • All houses would be 3 bedroom, 2.5 baths.
  • Question from community member: When did you purchase the property? A: June 2018. Q: And you were aware when you bought it that it was zoned RSA-2? A: Yes. Q: And you knew about the conservation overlay? A: Yes.
  • Comment from Leverington Street neighbor: This is a community of families and single family homes. This design ruins our block. You are literally building a road in the middle of the block. I’m not opposed to any development, but it needs to be reasonable. Today when I look out my window I see greens and pastures. After this, I’ll look out on a box that looks nothing like the rest of our houses. I appreciate that the plan has been changed from rentals to homeownership, but the density is still too high. I’m concerned about the integrity of the neighborhood.
  • Comments from another Leverington Street neighbor: 14 houses is a lot. Q: Where are the proposed decks located? A: the will be a deck on each unit above the garage accessed through the master bedroom and a roof deck above the third floor, but there will be no parapets or pilot houses atop the building. The neighbor noted no other nearby properties have roof decks and expressed concern about noise. Q: What is the height of the houses? A: Under 38 feet. The neighbor noted he was disappointed in the process, citing that required notices were not given to neighbors 21 prior to the hearing as required (notice was provided 13 days before hearing). The notice posted on the property was located on the front door of the house, where it was not visible from the sidewalk and could not be read without going onto the property and mounting a long set of stairs.
  • Comments from another Leverington Street neighbor: Traffic should be a concern. The property is located over a hill with limited visibility for anyone entering or exiting the proposed drive path. There is also a bus line that runs along there.
  • When asked about trash and property management, the developers stated there would be an HOA management that would handle trash and snow removal.
  • An adjacent neighbor asked about how the building would affect her property. The developers responded that a retaining wall with a fence or some landscaping would run along her property. Grading will need to be done on the construction site.
  • Comments from another Leverington Street neighbor: “I am 100% against ANY development.” This property is a window into our past, green spaces and wildlife will be lost if this project goes through.
  • Comments from another neighbor: This proposed development would bring a minimum of 30 people to the block. The supposed allotment for 2 parking spaces per home is unrealistic. Homeowners and their guests will still park on the street, where parking is already very limited. “I don’t want to live where rowhouses are a stone’s throw away.” When she asked the developer, “What value does this bring to the community?” there was no answer readily given.
  • Another Leverington Street neighbor: It’s offensive for me to receive a postcard informing me a new neighborhood is being plopped down. If you want to develop in Roxborough, do it with the support of the community.
  • Another Leverington Street neighbor expressed concern about the grading and height of the houses imposing on the privacy of near neighbors.
  • When directly asked, “What is your hardship”, the community was told the answer was two-fold. 1. This is an oversized lot. 2. This was not addressed.
  • Q: How can you claim you have a hardship when you just purchased the property 6 months ago? A: I don’t have an answer for that.
  • Neighbor comments: Why are you putting so many houses? A: This is a great neighborhood, like you’ve all said, and people who maybe couldn’t afford other houses in the area could afford these. It would bring more people into the community and into local businesses. Q: What is the price point for these houses? A: Over $400,000. Another resident stated, “If they can’t afford $600,000 and want to live here, there about 10,000 other houses in Roxborough to choose from.”
  • Hermitage Street neighbors expressed concerned about drainage from the site and described the proposed roof decks as “insupportable.”
  • Leverington Street Neighbor: Q: What protections will there be for the neighbors during the grading process? A: Whatever L&I and our engineer tell us to do. Some sort of shoring.
  • Leverington Street Neighbor: This is too dense and negatively will affect quality of life. The ordinances triggering variances for this project (steep slope, neighborhood conservation overlay and Wissahickon watershed) were enacted for a reason.
  • Q: What are the sizes of the back yards? A: 9 feet to 15 feet. [20 feet are required by zoning code]. Upon pressure, the developer will take a look to see if anything can be done to get to 20 feet.
  • Q: Do you have funding for all 14 houses? How long would the project take? A: Yes, we have full funding. Anticipate 18-24 months from start to finish.
  • Leverington Street Neighbor: I’m concerned about you “shoehorning” 14 houses onto one lot. Expressed concerns about ability of firefighters and emergency personnel to access the homes.
  • Hermitage Street Neighbor: Expressed concern that garages will be used for storage rather than parking, resulting in overflow onto already limited street parking. He also noted that development comes within 5 feet of the property line of homes on Hermitage Street.
  • Josh Cohen, representing Councilman Curtis Jones: I worked with CRCA to get the Neighborhood Conservation Overlay and appropriate zoning accomplished. We walked block by block and looked at each property. Councilman Jones is opposed to this project and will let the ZBA know it. He urged the developers to come back with a more appropriate plan.
  • Henry Clinton, Esquire, representing the developers, then agreed to request of a continuance of the ZBA hearing, originally scheduled for January 16th. He wrote and signed a paper that the hearing would be continued.
  • Another Leverington Street neighbor: There has been new construction in this area where new developments are designed to look like their older neighbors. The developer then stated they would pledge to meet the requirements of the conservation overlay.
  • Q: Will these properties receive 10 year tax abatements? A: Yes.
  • Hermitage Street Neighbor: As an architect, this is disgusting.
  • The developers then agreed to meet with the new neighbors, come up with a new plan, and come back to CRCA prior to going before the Zoning Board.
  • Neighbors expressed a desire to see the original house preserved if possible, and at the very least to have the property and grounds maintained while no one is living there.
  • Leverington Street Neighbor: The drive path is 20’ wide but the curb cut is only 12’ wide. I’m concerned about congestion.
  • The developers then left, as per CRCA policy, and a brief discussion followed. There was no straw vote taken as the developers have abandoned the plan and will be presenting a revised plan at a future CRCA meeting.




Copyright CRCA 2019