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Central Roxborough Civic Association Meeting Minutes

April 7, 2016

CRCA President Don Simon called the meeting to order and welcomed first-time attendees.

Rain Check Workshop Announcement

There will be a Rain Check Workshop held Wednesday April 13, 2016, at 6:30 P.M. at Leverington Presbyterian Church. Kay Sykora discussed how this is a great opportunity to learn about water runoff issues and learn about getting reimbursed for porous paving, rain gardens, and other green projects.

Night Market Announcement

Roxborough will be hosting its first Night Market event on Thursday, May 12. The central part of Ridge Avenue will be closed to make room for food trucks and other exciting vendors.

Steep Slopes

Under the current zoning code, development is prohibited city-wide on slopes with grade of 25% or greater. Don Simon explained that the Philadelphia Planning Commission recently passed regulations that would allow it to make certain exceptions to the zoning prohibition (such as allowing alterations to existing structures on protected slopes, etc.) and thereby exempting some types of development from having to seek a variance. Mr. Simon warned that this creates a giant gray area and gives the Planning Commission great power to exempt development from the steep slope zoning requirements. The steep slope requirements are particularly relevant to Roxborough; although the zoning regulations are city-wide, this area contains almost all of the city’s steep slopes. CRCA is partnering with Friends of the Wissahickon and a lot of other civic organizations in the northwest part of the city to request a public meeting on the Planning Commission’s new regulations. Stay tuned to CRCA for updates on when the public meeting will occur.

Pam DeLIssio’s Legislative Update

Don Simon read highlights from Rep. Pam DeLIssio’s letter on happenings in Harrisburg. The budget bill became law without the governor’s signature; Rep. DeLissio believes it does not adequately fund schools. Attention is now moving forward to the 2016/2017 budget which was proposed in February. Rep. DeLissio is hosting a Town Hall event with guest PA Secretary of Labor and Industry Kathy Manderino on Thursday, April 14, 2016 at the Tuttleman Center at Philadelphia University.

Zoning: 6160 Ridge Update

Update on 6160 Ridge (proposed variance to create single-room occupancy dwellings at a storefront). The owner had agreed to withdraw the request for a variance following a meeting involving the property owner, a translator, Don Simon and Roxborough Development Corporation’s James Calamia.

Spring Clean Up Announcement

The Roxborough Spring Clean Up event originally scheduled for Saturday, April 9, has been moved to Saturday, April 16 at 10:00 A.M. due to threat of snow. The CRCA will be working on cleaning up Edling Park, a steep slope area at Shurs Lane & Terrace that was given to CRCA on the condition that nothing ever be built there.

Wright Street Development

Mr. Addison Geary from Wright Street Woods Alliance addressed those present about his concerns regarding sudden development and lot clearing occurring in the Wright Street Woods, an area he believes is protected by the City’s Steep Slope Ordinance. He described that part of Wright Street as a former paper street between Gates and Hermitage Streets. He noted that the area is a sanctuary for indigenous and migratory birds and that the trees soak up runoff. Mr. Geary stated that foundations for 3 houses had been poured and questions if this development is 1) legal and 2) environmentally responsible. He passed around before-and-after photos of the site. He is requesting a meeting with Councilman Curtis Jones and the developer.
  • The developer of the property, Vaughn Buckley was in attendance and responded to Mr. Geary’s concerns. Mr. Buckley believes the work being done on the site is being done by right and does not require a variance. He notes that Wright Street is open on the city plan, and though overgrown and unpaved, does not require an ordinance to pave/reconstruct. He also stated that there was no development on the sloped part of the site. While one tree on the slope was cut down, Mr. Buckley pledged that no more will be.
  • Another citizen in attendance felt that the construction on the site was taking up parking spots on Silverwood. Mr. Buckley stated that he was aware of 4 spots on Wright Street being used, with affected neighbors having received notice, but not Silverwood and would be by the site Monday to investigate.
  • Citizen S informed those present that the City will provide maps of the steep slopes to anyone interested.
  • To clarify common confusion, Don Simon explained that the phrase “by right” means a proposed building or use for a building does not require the owner to seek a variance; that is, the proposed dimensions or use conform with the existing zoning for a parcel. The requirement for a community meeting with the coordinating civic organization only arises when a variance is requested. There is no requirement to meet with the civic group if a project is “by right”.

More on Night Market

RDC’s James Calamia discussed the upcoming Night Market (May 12th) a little further. The Night Market is a program put on through the Food Trust, with 4 markets occurring a year throughout Philadelphia. The idea is similar to an open air street market like those seen in Asia. Roxborough will be the first Night Market of the year.

Old Business Reviewed

  • 302 Leverington: A proposal for a set of twins was presented at a prior CRCA meeting. It was strongly opposed by the CRCA membership and most of the CRCA Zoning Committee. The owner has withdrawn his application for a variance.
  • The Philadelphia Folk Song Society (church at the corner of Roxborough and Ridge Avenues) has received their refusal for a special exception, so they will likely be presented at the CRCA May general meeting.
  • The other side of the re-built dry cleaners on Ridge near the hospital that had burned down will probably be coming to CRCA to request a special exception for a take-out restaurant (Domino’s).

Friends of Gorgas Park Announcement

Friends of Gorgas Park will be hosting a Love Your Park Day with food and music on April 30th at 10:00 A.M.

CRCA Variance Procedures

Don Simon then reviewed changes to CRCA’s procedure for presentations on variances. CRCA is in the process of establishing a Zoning Committee to review plans in advance of the general meeting and make recommendations. All decisions are ultimately reviewed by CRCA’s Board.

Zoning: 6174-82 Ridge Avenue

Presentation by Pastor Rich Jones of HighPointe Church re. for Variance and Special Exception at 6174-82 Ridge Avenue (between Post Office & day care, former Laundromat). Proposal is for a coffee shop/performance space/church.
  • This project requires a variance because since the church wishes to have performances during evening hours with an audience in excess of twenty people, this is considered a “night club” for which a use variance is required. They are also seeking a special exception for a religious assembly.
  • This congregation was previously in a location on Eva Street (for over 60 years, affiliated with Assemblies of God) but have since moved and need a new permanent worship site. Pastor Jones felt that retail spaces offered an appropriate size for the congregation (currently 30-40 members, hoping to grow) with an opportunity to give back to the community.
  • The vision is for a “performance coffeehouse” with a coffee house that would operate Monday – Saturday with ticketed music or other performances at night. They are investing a lot in sound and lighting to make the space desirable to performers. On Sunday the congregation would meet there for worship. There is no intention to ever serve alcohol.
  • Pastor Jones introduced Seth, also a HighPointe pastor, who is leaking the lead on the coffee shop. Pastor Seth described the project as not just a coffeehouse, but more of a “community hub.” The space is 2500 square feet with an occupancy of 100-125. They hope to eventually create jobs after settling in (estimated 6-10 employees from the Roxborough area). They are proud to use a local roaster from South Philly. The feel would be contemporary, warm and casual. They look forward to cleaning up the back area (parking lot). They plan to serve a simple lunch menu (soup, panini) and offer nitrogen-infused cold coffee delivered through a tap system. The coffee shop hours would be Monday through Saturday 7-7; Thursday, Friday and Saturday would have live music 8 P.M. to no later than 11 P.M. Sunday the store would be closed and the space used for worship. No alcohol would be served, allowed, or brought into the facility. They would “not be trying to proselytize every time someone gets a cup of coffee.” They may want to eventually get a food bank going in the rear of the space. The coffee shop is an LLC (for profit, profits go to church) and a separate legal entity from the church. They are essentially subletting the space to themselves. They have created a business plan and would provide it to anyone upon request.
  • HighPointe expressed willingness to have their lawyer craft a binding proviso that if the variance is granted, should the coffee shop leave, the zoning would revert back to the original zoning (which would prohibit a “night club”). HighPointe is renting the property and has a 5 year lease.
  • Pastors Rich and Seth were asked to leave so that the community could discuss the proposal outside of their presence.
    • Concerns: if coffee shop fails it will be more dead space on Ridge; will the proviso have any teeth to it?; what about that other storefront church on Ridge?; noise
    • Commendations: “this is the kind of thing we want to see on Ridge”; previous incarnation on Eva Street had positive community reputation and did a great live nativity; this can only improve the community; seem to have good intentions; this will fill a need for safe spaces for teens in Roxborough
  • Don Simon took a straw vote of those present. There were no near-neighbors who received required notification of the public meeting. The proposal most favored by those present was to support the request for a variance so long as it includes a proviso with a sunset clause that the zoning will revert back at a set time and that there will be no alcohol allowed. The same is true for the special exception.

More details on our Zoning page.

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