Central Roxborough Civic Association Meeting Minutes
June 2, 2016
CRCA President Don Simon called the meeting to order at 7:37.
Bike Race Block Party
CRCA and Roxborough Development Corporation and a church are co-sponsoring a Bike Race Block Party on Sunday, June 5th on Manayunk Avenue between Monastery and Grape Streets. There will be musicians from the Philadelphia Folk Song Society providing live music.
Update from Pam DeLissio
State Rep. Pam DeLissio sent a monthly statement regarding budget issues in Harrisburg. Her next local Town Hall Meeting is Friday, June 17th at 10:00 A.M. at the Wolcoff Auditorium in the rear of Roxborough Memorial Hospital.
No Meetings July or August
CRCA does not hold general meetings in July and August, so unless there is a new variance request, the next general meeting will be in September.
Gorgas Park Billboard
Check out the Gorgas Park billboard by Acme!
Bill Pounds introduced himself to those present. He is a former social worker and currently a candidate for state representative in the 194th District.
Domino’s on Ridge Avenue
ZBA approved special exception for a take-out restaurant.
Philadelphia Folk Song Society
ZBA approved zoning variances.
433 Lyceum Ave.
ZBA approved request for variance to expand daycare from 1st floor of building to second and third floors. . Because this variance request had encountered some opposition from members and neighbors, CRCA President Don Simon took time to explain why CRCA supported the variance and spoke in support of it at the ZBA hearing. At the CRCA general meeting in May when the project was presented, most of those present voted to support the proposal under a straw vote (even if the votes of parents of children enrolled at the daycare are disregarded). The residential apartment space above the daycare was difficult to rent – tenants had to undergo thorough background checks, get an FBI clearance, and this raised issues with visitors. The ZBA received and considered letters from neighbors in opposition to the expansion. Members of CRCA also met with the owner of the daycare to address some of the concerns raised by neighbors. The owner has agreed to replace the existing chain link fence, do something about the lack of windows, and is considering putting in speed bumps. There is not a definitive timeline set for these improvements, as the owner already has dedicated over $70,000 to upgrades. The CRCA meeting was the first time Don (and others from CRCA leadership) had ever met the owner of the daycare; there was no preexisting relationship between the parties. In the interest of full disclosure, it came to light only after the ZBA hearing that the daycare’s owner is married to Don Simon’s mechanic.
Steep Slope Regulations
CRCA Board Member Gordon Cohen addressed those present regarding proposed changes to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) Regulations regarding enforcement and operation of the Steep Slope Ordinance of the Zoning Code. He explained that prior to the new zoning code going into effect in 2012, there was a Wissahickon Watershed Overlay that included a steep slope protection ordinance. When the new zoning code was enacted, that protection was expanded city-wide to cover slopes of certain grades. The relevant ordinance in the current zoning code (14-704) explains that the purpose of that section is “to promote safe and compatible development throughout the City of Philadelphia that avoids adverse impacts and degradation of the environment through open space preservation, protection of steep slopes, erosion control, and water quality protection.” The provisions of the zoning code, including the Steep Slope Ordinance, were voted on by City Council and now have the full force of law. The Ordinance currently reads, in part: “On those portions of the lot where the slope of land is 25% or greater, no site clearing or earth moving activity is permitted.” Developers wishing to build on such sites (and even on some slopes with a little as 15% grade) are required to obtain PCPC prerequisite approval before requesting a variance at the zoning board. This is an open process that, like any other variance, triggers RCO (local civic organization) involvement, requires a public meeting, the hearing at ZBA is public, and the ZBA’s decision is appealable in Common Pleas and then Commonwealth Court. The PCPC’s proposed regulations would modify this legislation without actually amending the zoning code (which would require the approval of City Council and a public process). Under the proposed Regulation, the PCPC would have the power to exempt applicants from the entire zoning/variance process and would make the entire process occur behind closed doors without public input. CRCA, other Northeast civics, and Friends of the Wissahickon are opposing these Regulations as an impermissibly broad attempt to legislate on the part of a local administrative agency. If the PCPC believes there should be exceptions to the Steep Slope Ordinance in the zoning code, they should attempt to amend the zoning code. There is a meeting at the Planning Commission on Monday, June 6 at 1:00 P.M. to discuss these proposed Regulations.
- Attorney Bill O’Brien, developer Andy Mulson, and architect John Hunter presented a proposal for three attached single family homes with interior parking. Variances are needed for 1) de minimis setback (proposed 7, 9, and 11 inch setbacks where the zoning code does not allow for any setback); and 2) earth moving on steep slope of greater than 25%.
- Each of the three lots previously had houses on them, said houses being demolished at various times between 1920 and 2007.
- The setback variance is considered de minimis and being sought out of a desire to construct a home with 90 degree angles, which would not otherwise be possible due to the unique nature of the property lines.
- The steep slope requiring a variance is located only on the 4409 property and represents 340 square feet of a 1,700 square foot lot. The area is in the rear of the lot, where excavation will be necessary to create the property’s rear yard. The Planning Commission has reviewed the plans for disturbance on the slope and indicated they would not object to the development at the ZBA hearing. PCPC’s reasoning was that 1) it is a relatively small disturbance relative to the size of the site, and 2) there was previously a building on the site.
- The developers plan on taking one curb cut, removing one spot of on-street parking, in order to create access to a shared garage that can accommodate 4 vehicles.
- While the subject of this variance is only the 3 proposed homes at 4405, 4407 and 4409 Silverwood, there are plans for co-development at 4403 and 4401 Silverwood. Those lots have already been approved for subdivision, and one of the interior parking spaces would be for the property at 4403. The developers envision the total of five properties working together as “bookends” or “mirrors” of a sort with a consistent and complementary feel. An application for “administrative review” of the plans for 4403 and 4401 has already been submitted, and John Hunter anticipates approval thereof.
- A community member asked whether the shared parking would be handled as an easement with HOA fees or some alternative. Mr. O’Brien indicated they were awaiting the guidance of the Board of Building Standards regarding fire safety, which would occur after a variance is granted, to make a final determination on that issue.
- Another expressed concerns regarding runoff from the slope and the increase in pavement/impervious materials. Mr. Mulson assured that they were required to have a runoff plan approved by the Water Department and believes the project, when completed, will result in less runoff issues than the current vacant lot.
- Someone else present asked for clarification of the parking situation. It was explained that 4 vehicles will be able to park underneath the structures, with the garage being accessed via a curb cut on Silverwood.
- There was then an exchange between an attendee and the presenters regarding the amount of impervious material/footprint of the properties that had previously been built on the site. Since the building at 4409 was demolished close to 100 years ago, the City’s historical survey map may not be accurate. No agreement on the original footprint was achieved.
- The next concern expressed was that the setbacks and facades of the proposed buildings will not be uniform. Mr. Hunter stated that there is not uniformity among existing building lines on Silverwood and throughout Manayunk but that the street and neighborhood remain picturesque nonetheless.
- A resident asked what the facades would look like. Mr. Hunter described how they are using reclaimed Wissahickon schist on the lowest level, then 2 stories of smooth stucco in keeping with neighboring properties, with a top/attic level of gray cement. In response to a question about whether the protruding windows would be like the “boxes” seen in new development in the region, the answer was “yes” and they would be encased in gray cement.
- The properties would have central air, the mechanicals for such being housed on the roof level.
- As to the garage door, the current design is for a perforated gate that would slide sideways, as opposed to raising up.
- The steep slope affected area is in the rear of 4409, where the area will need to be leveled to create a rear yard. There has been a geotechnical survey done, which revealed that that particular area was mostly loose fill from previous construction and runoff, rather than solid rock.
- The existing stone wall on the site will be demolished but rebuilt with another retaining wall, also made of reclaimed Wissahickon schist.
Steve Horton spoke to the community on behalf of the Streets Department and encouraged those present to keep recycling and utilizing the service center on Domino Lane. He also encouraged people to share their ideas about chronic problems such as appliance disposal and bulk pickup. Innovative solutions are always welcome!
Community Zoning Discussion
Parties related to the project were asked to leave prior to discussion, as per CRCA policy.
- A Roxborough resident stated that she normally opposed front-facing garages but feels this project represents a decent tradeoff with only one street spot being taken in exchange for 4 interior spots.
- Another resident responded that the proposed parking situations looked like it would involve complicated “gyrations” and expressed concern that the logistics of parking may lead to the spaces being used as storage (especially since there are no basements provided for in the design).
- Another resident said that there will almost certainly be more than one car per property in need of parking.
- A CRCA member inquired whether a deed restriction re: use of interior parking spaces was an option, but the general consensus was that it would not be feasible to make such a request.
- There were concerns that runoff will remain an issue, despite the statements of the developers.
- The CRCA noted its general objections to proposed encroachment on steep slope areas, especially in light of the proposed changes to the PCPC regulations. A board member opined that PCPC should try to amend the zoning code rather than take steep slope issues behind closed doors. It is only because of the Steep Slope Ordinance and requisite need for a variance that this project is being presented at a public meeting. Were the proposed PCPC regulations to be effectuated, tonight’s meeting would never have taken place.
- A straw vote was taken to gauge the feeling of those presents. 8 voted to oppose the variance, 3 voted to support, and 7 voted “not opposed”
CRCA and its members are cordially invited to march with Leverington Presbyterian Church in their 4th of July Parade and attend a picnic in Gorgas Park.
A motion to adjourn was seconded and the meeting was dismissed at 8:45 P.M.