Developers of former Bunting House site say fast food proposal is ‘not set in stone’ and ‘not off the table’

The owners of the former Bunting House property on Ridge Avenue faced neighbors in Roxborough Thursday night, trying to quell rumors and field questions about possibilities for the site.

Brothers Frank and Anthony Giovannone said despite neighborhood rumors that have ballooned into an online petition campaign against a Wendy’s fast food establishment said to be coming to the site, they have no agreement in place with that restaurant or any other chain. They told about 100 neighbors who came to the Central Roxborough Civic Association’s meeting that they have filed a preliminary plan with the city Planning Commission indicating a generic fast-food use on the property, which includes 5901 through 5909 Ridge Ave.

Setting the record straight 

The Giovannones said several ideas for fast-food or quick service restaurants such as Wendy’s, Panera Bread and Chipotle were discussed in a series of meetings with civic representatives and the Roxborough Development Corporation. 

“Fast food is not set in stone, and it is not off the table,” Frank Giovannone said, pushing back against a room full of people who had all raised their hands to signal they didn’t want a Wendy’s. “We’ve been approached by cash for gold, by a pawn shop, and we don’t want that.”

While the crowd who came out to the meeting was unanimous in opposition to a fast-food drive through on the site, there are many in Roxborough who are expressing support for it both online and in discussions.

The corner property was the site of the Bunting House, a 19th-century building once home to a prominent Roxborough doctor. The Giovannones won a court fight that would have blocked demolition of the building, which they said was in too poor condition to be saved but many in the neighborhood said was historic. Like the rest of that part of Roxborough, the site was not historically certified and is not part of a historic district.

Residents express concerns, suggest other options 

One speaker suggested a Wendy’s would funnel business away from nearby mom-and-pop eateries like Chubby’s and The Pierogie Kitchen, especially with a drive-through window. Others talked about the health risks of fast food, while others had concerns about possible trash and the overall image of Roxborough.

John Boyce of the Friends of Gorgas Park talked about how improvements to the park in recent years have been part of what is drawing people to Roxborough. He urged the Giovannones to “try to bring quality into this neighborhood, because the people who are moving here are quality.”

David Schiman, a leader of the nascent Manayunk-Roxborough Food Co-op, urged the Giovannones to consider talking to his group about locating there. “We are as a group against bringing fast food to the Ridge,” he said.

Others suggested a farmer’s market, though the Giovannones pointed out that a similar one on Ridge Avenue had failed. There were several calls for a mixed-use development of some kind, with retail at street level and apartments above, something the Giovannones did not reject outright.

Earlier in the meeting, attorney Hal Schirmer had discussed possible methods of opposing a plan for the site, once it is formally filed. While restaurants are allowed in the CMX-2 commercial zone where the now-empty site now sits, a fast-food takeout would require a special use permit. Schirmer explained that at that point, neighbors and the civic associations could voice opposition at the zoning board and in court if it came to that.

Schirmer didn’t discuss an earlier scenario he hinted at, in which the civic groups could seek to have an earlier city-approved plan for the parcel re-activated. It’s an unlikely legal scheme, though the owners did address the previous plan, saying it hadn’t been built because the previous owners couldn’t get financing for it and they likely wouldn’t either.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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