East Falls Community Council approves Westrum settlement which, if finalized, would recoup playground funds

The vote was nearly unanimous.

On Thursday night, members of the East Falls Community Council overwhelmingly supported a motion to settle a pending lawsuit recently filed against Westrum Development Company, the suburban-based corporation behind Hilltop at Falls Ridge, a townhome development off of Ridge Avenue in East Falls.

The 31-1 vote – taken during a special EFCC meeting – effectively ended a nearly seven-year campaign to recoup promised funding for a neighborhood playground at Inn Yard Park, a swath of land between Kelly Drive and Ridge Avenue that sits not far from Hilltop.

If the settlement agreement is finalized, Westrum will cut a check for $28,000 to EFCC for Inn Yard Park’s playground, installed in 2011. Fourth District City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., whose office has already committed significant funding for the playground, would additionally contribute $25,000 from his office’s capital fund.

The agreement, hashed out in early February, also states that Jones will assume responsibility for resolving traffic and safety concerns tied to one of the park’s access points and that EFCC will drop its demand for deed restrictions at Hilltop.

Attorney Marjorie Stern Jacobs, who along with Barnaby Wittels, first-vice president of EFCC, is representing the civic in the matter, called the agreement a “win-win.”

“We will not get any further down the road than we are now,” she said, adding that “it’s time to move on.”

While some residents had some concerns, it appeared most agreed with Jacobs. “The bottom line, it’s good for East Falls,” said Claire Stilley, second-vice president of EFCC.

Added Josh Cohen, special assistant for Jones: “We are very pleased that this matter has come to a conclusion.”

John Westrum, CEO of Westrum Development, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

In 2006, Westrum agreed to contribute up to $50,000 in matching funds for a neighborhood playground whenever EFCC decided on a location and was ready to build. In exchange, EFCC agreed to support a series of zoning variances Westrum needed to construct Hilltop.

When, however, EFCC members called Westrum to collect, Westrum told them that times were tough and that the company couldn’t scrape together the cash for the playground, a response that became a familiar refrain over the next few years.

In November, EFCC had had enough and announced that it was suing Westrum for the $50,000. The civic also wanted Westrum to address the traffic and property-related provisions from the 2006 agreement.

The terms of a settlement were eventually decided upon during a Feb. 6 meeting that included representatives of EFCC, Westrum and Jones.

Wittels said the agreement should be finalized in the next two weeks.

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