The once acrimonious relationship between Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez and Patricia DeCarlo, executive director of Norris Square Civic Association, has given way to what appears to be—superficially, at least—a productive partnership. Last month, Sánchez and DeCarlo issued a joint statement summarizing their updated plans for the site of the former St. Boniface church in Norris Square. NSCA’s plans for a 15 co-op housing units at the site were opposed by Councilwoman Sánchez throughout the spring.
The statement said the new plans call for “no more than eight housing units” at St. Boniface, and that Councilwoman Sánchez has promised to support all aspects of the reworked project. So far, according to representatives of NSCA, Sánchez seems to be making good on that promise.
A rendering of the new plan for the northeast corner of the St. Boniface sight shows seven two- and three-story, single-family homes, each with two off-street parking spots in the rear. The plans—obtained by NSCA “off-the-shelf” from Philadelphia-based firm KSK Architects Historians Planners, Inc.—call for brick facades on the seven rowhouse units. Maria Camoratto, NSCA’s director of real estate development, said the homes had not yet been appraised. According to Camoratto, KSK’s plan was chosen through a Request for Proposals issued by Allied Construction, the firm hired by NSCA to manage the redevelopment of the site.
“We chose KSK because they had a design in place that fit the fabric of the neighborhood,” said Camoratto, who also pointed out that the plans (attached to this article) may change somewhat.
Camoratto said that Sánchez had helped NSCA secure by-right zoning permits for the project. She said NSCA hopes to obtain building permits and begin construction on the St. Boniface homes next month.
NSCA intended to fund its original plans for the St. Boniface site through two sources. The group received a $5 million grant from the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) to redevelop three buildings on the St. Boniface site other than the main church, which has already been demolished.
That grant requires matching funds, which NSCA found in a portion of a $9.1 million federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP-2) grant given to the Arizona-based consortium Chicanos por la Causa (CPLC) to build 30 affordable housing units. Five million dollars of that grant was dedicated to the original 15-unit plan for St. Boniface. NSCA needs to spend that money and finish construction on 15 units by February 2013 in order to keep the RACP grant.
The first item in NSCA’s Memorandum of Agreement with Councilwoman Sánchez reads [sic]: “It is understood that our primary objective is working towards getting 30 housing units that meet NSCA’s contractual obligation to CPLC (eligibility and income mix) completed by February 2013 without loosing the 5 million dollar RCAP funding for St Boniface nor NSP2 funds already expended on the development of St. B”s 15 unit Coop.”
NSCA is working to find eight additional properties to redevelop, to supplement the seven it plans to construct at St. Boniface, to meet the requirement of completing 15 affordable units by February. Camoratto said she hoped to bid on four properties at a Sheriff’s Sale Tuesday morning, but was unsuccessful. She is optimistic, however, that everything will come into place by the deadline.
Councilwoman Sánchez is also hopeful that NSCA will meet the construction deadline, and said she is happy with the group’s new plans for St. Boniface.
“I was actually pretty pleased with how quickly they were able to turn around,” Sánchez said. “Everything’s moving pretty quickly.”
Sánchez said she is helping NSCA work with the Philadelphia Housing Authority to identify units that it may be able to transfer, and that her office has been facilitating the Association’s dealings with various city agencies. She also said she’s working to help NSCA find a suitable site to build the 15 co-op housing units it initially had planned for St. Boniface.
But Sánchez reiterated her position that the group’s original St. Boniface plan was not the best use of redevelopment grants, and said she would try to take a more proactive approach with organizations in her district that receive such grants.
“To the extent that we can do more with the little that we have, I’m going to insist on it,” Sánchez said.
“If we manage to keep everybody on track with what they’ve committed to,” said Patricia DeCarlo, director of NSCA, “and if we have a little bit of luck and we work extra hard, we should be able to get it done.”
Asked to describe NSCA’s relationship with the Councilwoman now that the two sides appear to be working together, DeCarlo said: “So far, so good.”