The field of Liddonfield suitors is down to two
The field of possible developers for the former Liddonfield Homes site has been narrowed to two, according to the leader of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association.
At the UHCA’s monthly meeting on April 19, Stan Cywinski, the civic group’s president, reported that officials from the Philadelphia Housing Authority met with Plymouth Meeting-based Roizman Development Inc. last week and are expected to meet with the other primary bidder, Holy Family University, this week.
Roizman wants to build “low-income housing,” Cywinski said, on 12 acres of the 32-acre tract at Torresdale Avenue and Megargee Street. Holy Family has proposed a combination of college dormitory housing, retail stores, athletic fields and assisted senior housing for the full 32 acres.
The site is now covered in grass, trees and driveways and surrounded by chain-link fences. Hundreds of public housing apartments occupied it for decades. PHA still owns the property and has not announced a timetable for selling it, said Cywinski, who has met with the hopeful developers.
The civic association has endorsed the Holy Family proposal, although Roizman officials have shown a willingness to address community concerns about a large-scale subsidized housing project, Cywinski said.
After suffering for decades with heightened crime and neighborhood blight associated with Liddonfield, neighbors generally oppose another low-income housing project, regardless of its configuration.
According to the civic leader, PHA has modified its criteria in an effort to accommodate both remaining bidders. It would allow Holy Family to reduce the footprint of its proposal to allow Roizman a slice of the pie, but the university is sticking by its bid for the entire site, Cywinski said.
Meanwhile, City Council last week unanimously passed a bill by Councilman Bobby Henon to change the zoning designation for the entire site from R-11A to R-9A, against the wishes of PHA, Cywinski said. The main difference in the classifications is that R-11A allows multi-family dwellings like apartment buildings, while R-9A is restricted to single-family homes, like the row houses that border the Liddonfield site.
“Now Liddonfield is zoned the same as the surrounding community,” Cywinski said, noting that the change gives the community another layer of protection from unwanted development there.
• In other UHCA business, Cywinski reported that the civic group is prepared to hire a bus to take residents into Center City for another round of legal wrangling over a proposed methadone clinic.
The clinic would occupy an office at Frankford Avenue and Decatur Street in the neighboring Holmesburg Civic Association territory. In the face of community opposition, the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment withdrew approval for the facility, only for its owners to appeal the ZBA ruling to Common Pleas Court.
The next hearing date has not been set.
• Cywinski debunked rumors that a building at Torresdale Avenue and Ashburner Street has been chosen as the future site of a homeless shelter. In truth, a Lutheran church group has approached civic leaders with the idea of starting a shelter in the area, but there have been no formal discussions.
• The UHCA voted to endorse a food vendor’s effort to launch a lunch-truck business on the 8800 block of Torresdale Ave. Partners Gerry Foley and Arthur Young hope to set up their Torresdale Grill in a customized 30-foot trailer in a shopping-center parking lot across from the former Liddonfield site.
Foley said he’s been told by city officials that if he parked the unit in the street, he wouldn’t need a zoning variance. But he will need a variance to operate off-street because the site isn’t zoned for food sales, although an Acme supermarket and a pizza parlor used to be tenants there, Foley said.
• Cywinski reported that the Philadelphia Water Department has selected Upper Holmesburg as the site of a possible community beautification project funded by new storm-water management taxes.
The UHCA was one of the first civic groups in the city to create a Philadelphia 2035 plan in collaboration with the City Planning Commission. The beautification project will be a reward for their involvement. It could include tree plantings, park-bench installations or other improvements.
• The next meeting of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association will feature free Philadelphia Water Ice and be held on Thursday, May 17, at 7 p.m. at St. Dominic’s Marian Hall, 8532 Frankford Ave. ••