Board members walk out over zoning frustration at East Torresdale meeting

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Heated arguments broke out at last night’s East Torresdale Civic Association meeting, where residents and board members collided over a zoning issue, causing many of them to walk out vowing never to return.

A variance to allow twin homes to be built using outdated zoning policies set off a slew of sidebar conversations and angry tangents, despite a signed petition’s from the property owner’s neighbors. The owners, Charles West and his wife Frances, requested approval from the association to build twin homes at 4507-09 Linden Ave., despite being four square feet short on space, as a result of recently updated zoning codes.

West approached the attendees with signatures from more than two dozen of his neighbors, who gave unanimous approval for the project. But permission from the civic association will make a stronger case in his favor when he meets with the Zoning Board of Adjustment in November.

The Wests had barely left the room for the voting process when the tension broke and residents began to express their opposition.

A visit from the 8th District

Capt. Deborah Kelly of the 8th District reviewed 8th District crime statistics with East Torresdale residents.

-All Part 1 crimes (homicide, rape, robbery with a weapon, aggravated assault with a weapon and property crimes) are down 11 percent.

-Homicides are up 100 percent, with 2 last year and 4 this year.

-Shooting incidents are down 63 percent, and the number of shooting victims is down 46 percent.

Kelly also addressed concerns about drag racing, which is a problem along the 8500- to 9400- blocks of State Road.

-Residents are instructed to call 911 for drag racing incidents, which Kellly has forwarded to her home.

-As with all traffic violations, police often cannot pursue fleeing vehicles as a matter of public safety.

-Concerned neighbors were encouraged to form a committee, which would work with police to stop the racing.

“The blight of parking is diminishing the value of our neighborhood,” one resident said in anger, as she raised her voice to make herself heard above the crowd. Many in attendance said they felt adding two homes to an already busy street would increase the congestion, while several others shot back that approval from West’s immediate neighbors should be enough to grant West permission to build.

Another major concern for residents was the idea of setting a precedence. “This association has gone down in influence,” one woman said from her seat. She said to approve West’s request would open the door to approving similar requests from developers looking to build multiple units on properties.

President Lew Halas’s gavel — and insistence that one zoning request has nothing to do with another — did little to hush the crowd, some of whom were standing to make themselves heard. But the real chaos began when Vice President Bill Kennedy halted the arguments and requested a motion to vote on the matter.

Seven people voted in West’s favor, and eight against, with five people abstaining. With the vote so close and the more than 30 people in the room at odds, Kennedy called for a second vote — this time proposing that the association take no position on the zoning request.

Though the idea of a second vote was met with opposition, the final vote revealed 11 people in favor of taking no position, eight against and three abstaining. Many of the board members expressed outrage over having two votes, accusing others of trying to sway residents into approving West’s zoning.

As the argument fizzled and disgruntled residents and group officers gathered outside, the meeting was adjourned, with the remaining board members left to rehash the events to West and his wife, who stepped out during the voting process.

Also as last night’s meeting…a motion to cease reading minutes from previous meetings was ordered, with reason being the minutes can be found on the group’s Web site. A vote was taken and residents shut down the motion…the East Torresdale Civic Association will next meet Nov. 9, with guest speaker Barbara McCabe from the Department of Parks & Recreation.

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