East Mt. Airy Neighbors divided over rooming house proposal

East Mt. Airy Neighbors’ (EMAN) board members focused on whether they would support an effort to establish the neighborhood’s first legal rooming house at their monthly meeting on Tuesday night. Pamela McHerrin, owner of the property in question, first presented her case to the civic association in February.

At that time, EMAN moved to table a decision on the matter until this month’s meeting.

A resident of Mt. Airy for over 40 years, McHerrin owns three properties on East Johnson Street, including the home she has proposed turning into a rooming house – number 229. McHerrin seeks a zoning variance that would turn the single family house into a seven-unit rooming home. The restructuring would allow her to maintain ownership and upkeep, and give her the opportunity to offer housing options to community members with low-incomes. 

McHerrin says her strict standards for tenants – which include no smoking and no drugs – help to, “maintain the integrity” and “keep the vitality” of the neighborhood. Her boarders, she says, are neighbors who become friends and support one another in “a safe place they call home.”

If Philadelphia’s Zoning Board of Adjustments turns down the petition, she will lose the house. Before meeting with the Zoning Board in April, McHerrin sought EMAN’s approval.

EMAN President, Kent Reichert, voiced the associations’ concerns. “This is really an excruciating case,” he said.

He described McHerrin as an “utterly sincere, innocent person who wants to do best for her community.”

But, he conceded, EMAN had an obligation to consider “what’s best for the community” at-large. The board discussed the negative connotations of transient dwellers, concerns that a future owner may not share McHerrin’s high expectations for tenants.

A motion to support the variance failed when a vote resulted in a divided board. EMAN approved a motion to submit a letter to the zoning board noting the civic association’s vote to approve the variance resulted in a tie.

Other Business

Board member Janet Amato gave an update on Mt. Airy Day, scheduled for Saturday, May 4. Tickets will sell in packs of six for $5 or individually for $1. So far, the event has three sponsors – the Chestnut Hill Hospital, Valley Green Bank, and MetroPCS. This year’s raffle will yield cash prizes.

Executive Director, Elayne Bender, is looking into how local business owners might participate in the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. Bender and the executive directors of other Mt. Airy civic groups are visiting local elementary schools to see how the community might offer assistance to any pressing needs.

EMAN also discussed initial plans to host an informational meet-and-greet between community members and political candidates before municipal elections take place on May 21.

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