Former blighted Rochelle Ave. property on road to recovery

 This is how 5101 Rochelle Ave. looked in Oct. 2013. (Neema Roshania/WHYY)

This is how 5101 Rochelle Ave. looked in Oct. 2013. (Neema Roshania/WHYY)

A Philadelphia court has denied a petition from the Wissahickon Interested Citizen’s Association to appoint a conservator for what had been a rundown former pizza shop building in Roxborough.

Common Pleas Court Judge Arnold L. New issued an order on Jan. 15 that found the proposed conservator, Innova Redevelopment LLC, did not meet the requirements to take over the property because it had not completed a rehabilitation project within one mile of the contested property, the former restaurant and residence at 5101 Rochelle Ave.

The order also found that WICA failed to establish that at least three of the conditions necessary to appoint a conservator for the property under the Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act. That law, passed in 2008, allows the transfer of a neglected property to a conservator who could undertake the rehabilitation and sale of the property.

Back at work

The court decision came after a series of hearings held on Nov. 21 and Jan. 13 and 14.

The owner of 5101 Rochelle, Eric Sacks, argued that the building was never abandoned, is no longer blighted, and is under construction with his intention of renting out the apartment space and the ground-floor commercial space.

Sacks said he had stopped working on the property last year “when we thought we might lose it” because of the WICA petition. On his first day back at the site after the court issued its decision, Sack said, “I felt like I didn’t have someone looking over my shoulder anymore. On the second day back, it felt like it was my building again.”

A stop-work order had been issued in December by L&I, and Sacks was informed he needed electrical and general construction permits to complete rehabilitation of the building. Sacks said Sunday that he now has the necessary construction permits to continue but is still in the process of obtaining the electrical permit.

He expects the ground-floor commercial space to be rented within four months and has received interest from several possible tenants. He said the entire building would be finished within nine months.

Past violations

In 2013, the Department of Licenses & Inspections posted notices on the building, which had once been occupied by Mia’s Pizza and several apartments, informing the owner that he faced legal action and fines if immediate repairs weren’t made. L&I cited a partially collapsed ceiling and repairs needed on the front and basement entrances.

The building had been an eyesore for many years, according to WICA vice president Charles Roller. He did not have immediate comment on New’s order, but he said WICA had sought a conservator in order to transform one of many longtime problems along the gateway to the Roxborough community.

“We’re doing it because we don’t want to live in a slum,” Roller said of the conservatorship petition.

The WICA petition cited various conditions for seeking conservatorship of the Rochelle Avenue property, including L&I violations for unsafe conditions and failing structural systems, the dilapidated appearance of the property, and its impact on neighboring businesses and residences.

The organization had named Innova Redevelopment as the prospective conservator. The president of Innova, Jeffrey Allegretti, also serves on WICA’s zoning committee.

Next up: Zoning challenge

The battle over the property isn’t over yet.

At the conservatorship hearing, Sacks said, WICA expressed plans to challenge the owner’s intention of renting three apartment units in the two upper floors of the building based on the zoning for the neighborhood.

Sacks said the property had always been a multi-unit building, and other buildings in the neighborhood had at least that many apartments.

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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