Mt. Airy resident seeks support for neighborhood rooming house

East Mt. Airy Neighbors is considering whether it wants to support a zoning variance request that, if approved by the city, would convert a single family home into perhaps the neighborhood’s first legal rooming house.

“This is generally not something EMAN would support,” said board member Derek Green during the civic’s monthly meeting Tuesday night. He added that securing approval from Philadelphia’s Zoning Board of Adjustments, who has the official say in the matter, will also be a challenge.

For the past year and a half, Pamela McHerrin has rented seven individual rooms inside 229 E. Johnson St. The longtime resident now wants to offer housing for up to 14 individuals – two tenants per room. Tenants would share the property’s kitchen and two bathrooms.

McHerrin said she only takes tenants from word of mouth referrals and has successfully enforced a set of rules and regulations which ban smoking, drugs and violence. All applicants must be self-sufficient and not under the jurisdiction of any court system.

“I provide a clean, decent place for people to live that’s affordable,” said McFerrin, who owns a total of three properties on Johnson, including her home.

McHerrin said renting rooms in this manner has allowed her to maintain her property on a block which has seen six adjacent homes torn down and turned into vacant lots. She noted that she is afraid that if she is unable to rent rooms, the house will be left vacant and eventually suffer the same fate.

“[I’m] trying to do something positive” on a block which has seen better times, she said.

No near neighbors have come forward in opposition. Some have signed a petition in support of the project.

While EMAN members commended McHerrin for her efforts to preserve the quality of life on her block, including hiring two people to mow the lawns of the vacant lots, several expressed unease about supporting the variance request.

“It’s a picture of two extremes – a woman who has made an extraordinary investment in the community on one hand. On the other hand, introducing transients, which is never good for the community,” said EMAN President Kent Reichert.

Board member, Dan Muroff explained that the most troubling aspect is the permanency of a variance. The variance could remain in place long after the property changes ownership, unless it wasn’t used as a rooming house for three consecutive years.

Another owner, noted Muroff, may not live across the street, or even in the community, and may not hold tenants to the same high standards as McHerrin has set.

Another concern, said Green, is setting a precedent that could encourage others, particularly non-residents, to seek variance requests for establishing other rooming houses in the neighborhood.

There are currently no legal rooming houses in Mt. Airy, asserted Muroff.

EMAN members voted to table a decision until next month. McHerrin will face the ZBA on April 2.

Massage therapy practice

A local massage therapist is requesting a variance to be able to provide services to clients in her home, located at 48 E. Durham St.

Mary Schofield, a licensed massage therapist, said she would limit her practice to 10 clients per week.The biggest issue, said Green is parking. Durham is a narrow residential road with parking on one side of the street and homes on both sides. Parking is scarce even in the middle of the day.

Near neighbors would prefer Schofield to work with the established chiropractor, Brett Cardonick whose practice is just across the street, at 23 E. Durham, he said.

Two massage therapists already work with Dr. Cardonick.

Green said another zoning discussion will take place to try to come to a solution before Schofield’s ZBA hearing on March 20.

Other business

EMAN welcomed a guest presentation by Mary Fallon of Unitarian Universalist Housing Outreach (UUHO), at 22 Rittenhouse St. The organization provides free services and advocacy to residents aged 60 and over in Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill, Germantown, West Oak Lane and parts of East Falls. Its mission is to help area seniors age in place.

“We want to be out there as a resource for the community,” said Fallon.

UUHO has a staff of six, including a nurse and social worker. All clients are provided with an assessment of their health and living environment which can help identify concerns. There are currently 260 active cases, Fallon said.

In addition to helping seniors gain access to information, programs and assistance, UUHO’s services range from free blood pressure screenings and a wellness workshop series to a client assistance fund. UUHO is also a volunteer site for the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging’s (PCA) senior companion program and has five seniors who make home visits to clients.

UUHO will be connecting with the neighborhood’s newly emerging aging in place resource, Mutual Mt. Airy, later this month, Fallon said.

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