Roxborough civic addresses new gym proposal, graffiti attacks and party houses

On Thursday night, over a dozen community members and businessmen gathered at Leverington Presbyterian Church for the December meeting of the Central Roxborough Civic Association.

On the evening’s agenda were several items of interest for neighborhood residents – a proposed fitness center, a brief report from the Philadelphia Police Department’s 5th District, and a discussion about several homes within the CRCA’s jurisdiction.

Standing beside a white dry erase board in the church’s chapel, CRCA President Ed Hotham called the meeting to order shortly after 7:30.

Catering to the 82-percent of gym-goers

First to speak were Tony Ruffo and Rick Petrone, co-franchisees of a proposed Planet Fitness location slated to open in Roxborough in 2012.

Ruffo began with a brief overview of the company and its operational philosophy.

“This club is basically for basic fitness,” said Ruffo, and listed a variety of services – classes, pools, tennis courts – that they won’t offer.

“It puts a tremendous burden on the business model,” he continued.

The business model, as explained by Ruffo, is simple.

“It’s $10 a month,” he said, referring to the cost of membership. In addition, he said there are no membership contracts to contend with.

Asked how Planet Fitness – described as “the Wal-Mart of the health-club industry,” in documents distributed by Petrone – competes with other fitness centers that provide more comprehensive offerings, Ruffo cited a study that said only 18-percent of the gym-going population utilizes the other services.

“The truth of the matter,” replied Ruffo, “is that the other 82-percent joins the gym for what we do have.”

After explaining the Planet Fitness model, Ruffo fielded questions from the audience.

The foremost concerns were parking lot utilization, lighting, and the potential impact of the gym’s 24-hour-a-day schedule.

Addressing these issues, Ruffo stated that the 24-hour schedule spreads clients out throughout the day. In addition, as Planet Fitness offers no classes, he said there are no after-work spikes in usage.

With regard to lighting, Ruffo said that existing lamps in the parking lot will be used, and will be enhanced by wall-pack lighting installed on the building.

He stated that all lighting will be pitched lower at night to minimize light pollution.

Lastly, Ruffo implied that the community will indeed be safer as a result of Planet Fitness’ round-the-clock schedule.

“I know I’m better off with 42 people on treadmills with cell phones, looking out the window,” he said. 

Looking to close the purchase of the building by Christmas, Ruffo emphasized the intent of Planet Fitness to work with residents in order to receive what he termed as “a warm, cozy feeling from the community.”

“If you like it, we’ll be ok,” he said.

Graffiti artist hits Roxborough 

As Ruffo and Petrone exited the chapel, a warm welcome was extended to Charles Kline, quality of life officer for the Philadelphia Police Department’s 5th District.

After distributing a handout for residents outlining safe shopping strategies – entitled “The Ten Commandments for Shopper Security” – he briefed the assembly on crime in the 5th District.

PO Kline said that just before the meeting, he received word that a local graffiti artist – “Kraze” – had nearly been apprehended in a foot pursuit.

Kline said that Kraze – described as a 5’10”, white male, between the ages of 16 and 20 – evaded capture on the railroad tracks, and then condemned the shortsightedness of the fugitive.

“This guy is ruining his own neighborhood,” said Kline.

Providing a personal police blotter, Kline said that robberies in the last month were minimal, but noted an uptick in vehicle break-ins and resultant thefts from the SEPTA train station on Umbria Street.

“We’re getting hit like crazy down there,” he said, and urged users of adjoining parking to remove all valuables from plain-view.

Kline also fielded questions from residents of Lyceum Street about abandoned vehicles, citing that one truck on their block had not been moved in ten weeks.

Kline suggested that they get all the information they can about the truck – tags, make, model, color, and location – and call him.

“Got a problem?” said Kevin Smith, President of the Manayunk Neighborhood Council, “Call Charlie Kline.”

Circling back to party house problems 

Following Officer Kline’s departure, the CRCA’s attention turned to housing in Roxborough.

Gary Jonas, proprietor of a site at 4383 Pechin Street, was scheduled to speak next but had not arrived – nor would he.

Speculation at the meeting was that he was proposing to turn a side yard into a parking lot for the tenants of 4383, but given his absence, no further information could be ascertained.

Attention instead turned to party houses, which has been a matter of civic dialogue in Northwest Philadelphia in recent months, owing to legislative initiatives recently proposed by 4th District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.

Smith provided CRCA with an update of his efforts.

He has obtained lists of all rental properties in the area, and is in the process of cross-checking extant rentals with those on the list to clear out any illegal rentals in the area.

Smith cited bureaucratic hindrances along the way, and suggested that resolving this will be an important step in eliminating problem rentals.

“In the long term,” he said,” we’re pressing the city to get this information more organized and getting it public, and then learning how to get it done.”

To do so, he has behind him the weight of five civic organizations – Central Roxborough Civic Association, Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association, Wissahickon Interested Citizens Association, Manayunk Neighborhood Council and Ridge Park Civic Association – or “The Five Families,” as Smith referred to them.

In regard to progress made, Smith said that he hopes to have a “well-oiled machine” for obtaining further municipal resources, but tempered that with a nod toward action.

“I’m not sure we need more legislation,” said Smith, adding, “We need more enforcement.”

Hotham, was optimistic about the plan’s progress. “Hopefully we can work with License and Inspections, police, and the colleges,” he said,” and get this matter resolved.”

For more information about CRCA, visit or call 215-482-6381

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