East Falls development brings concerns about parking, land ‘integrity’

 Four new homes are expected to be completed at Indian Queen Lane and Conrad Street within four months. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Four new homes are expected to be completed at Indian Queen Lane and Conrad Street within four months. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

At the intersection of Cranky Joe’s Sports Bar and Billy Murphy’s Irish Saloonery in East Falls, there’s a new development in the works.

For now, it’s just four, single-family dwellings on a long-vacant lot.

But some of the neighbors are worried about how fast the project has been moving and the stability of the land on which they are rising.

Property history

The site at Conrad Street and Indian Queen Lane was once the home of the John Hohenadel Brewery, also known as the Falls Brewery.

For nearly 60 years, it employed dozens of area residents. The brewery shut down in 1952. A soft-drink company occupied the building until 1959, and was vacant thereafter.

The empty structure became an eyesore and target for vandals, and in 1997, following outrage by neighbors and then-Councilman Michael Nutter, it was declared imminently dangerous by the Department of Licenses & Inspections.

Demolition soon followed, but the site’s bad reputation seems to linger.

Neighborhood concerns

Mike Murphy, Conrad Street resident and Saloonery employee, said neighbors are concerned that soil testing was never done at the site by the current owner and the “integrity of the land” below the construction is questionable.

The former brewery had two levels below ground and there were caverns that had not been properly filled before development began a few weeks ago, said Murphy, who cited a curiously speedy inspection and permit process.

He also noted that customers of his bar will lose the parking spaces across the street when the development of the four houses is complete.

Murphy said he is currently working with city representatives to get new angle parking along Conrad Street to offset the loss of parking spots at the intersection.

Rod Arbiz is an Indian Queen Lane resident whose property overlooks the new housing construction project.

“The neighbors would like to see it developed,” he said. But he has also heard concerns from residents about caverns below surface and whether they have been properly filled.

Developer, builder response

The owner and developer, listed on permits posted at the site as Garden State Assembly Realty, is Mark Tirone.

Tirone purchased the parcel of land in Jan. 2012, and an environmental site assessment had been commissioned by the previous owner and conducted by Brightfields, Inc.

“This assessment revealed no hazardous land/soil contaminants,” Tirone said.

A land study, including soil integrity and percolation tests, as well as land integrity tests, was performed by BP Geotech, Inc., Tirone also said.

“All standard city protocols regarding zoning and approvals were followed,” he added.

Asked about any unexpected problems during the initial construction phase, Tirone said, “No surprises were found – no skeletons, not even any beer barrels. There was one small, shallow cavern which was exposed on excavation.”

It was evaluated by the Geotech engineer who designed “a fill-in consisting of impacted stone. This was approved by the city inspector,” Tirone said.

The builder on the Conrad Street project is J.F. Macks Group of Philadelphia.

A workman at the site on Oct. 31, who chose not to identify himself, said the neighbors have nothing to fear about the construction.

The capacity of the ground formerly held a five-story building, he said, and the new houses are being built with steel-reinforced concrete and a four-foot-thick foundation on a 12-inch-thick slab.

The site had become a dumping ground in recent years, and the construction crews had removed two truckloads of debris before groundbreaking began, the workman said.

More houses to come?

The site is currently zoned for 11 townhouses including the four currently under construction along Conrad Street. Nine attached homes will go up along Conrad, and two attached homes will rise on Indian Queen Lane.

“Due to the size of the land coverage, we need to include stormwater management to account for the lose of land absorption of rainwater,” Tirone said.

So, the houses will include green roofs and pervious pavers for all the driveways. The price for each home is currently set at $419,000.

The first four homes are scheduled to be completed in four months.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Alan Jaffe at alanjaffe@mac.com.

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