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Frankford Civic Association meeting ends in shouts, accusations and no vote on the Bridge

The two and a half hour Frankford Civic Association meeting that started 20 minutes late and ended with heated conversation on the controversy of the moment in that beleaguered neighborhood didn’t feature a single vote.

Local opinion of plans for the Bridge, a celebrated, four-decades-old, adolescent residential treatment facility, to develop a campus on a nine-acre plot of nearby land along Adams Avenue, is split between pragmatic support for a known entity and firm opposition for any more recovery programs in the neighborhood. To develop the property, the Bridge will need a variance from the city’s Zoning Board, which can be influenced by neighborhood group opinion.

After spilling into inaction, Barry Howell, president of the Northwood Civic Association, told reporters that on Monday he was going to sign a neighborhood agreement with Bridge representatives.

A dozen residents — more than most recent meetings — attended the meeting, billed as the night that members would vote on whether the civic association would write a letter of opposition or one of non-opposition for the Bridge, which is being forced to leave its current Fox Chase location due to circumstances beyond their control. Their current landlord, the Medical Mission Sisters have written a letter commending the facility, which is a subsidiary of Public Health Management Corp.

“You knock on a lot of doors right near where we were and I’d bet most never knew we were there,” said Bridge Program Director Michael Ogden.

No-show owner of 4271 Penn Street panned by Frankford Civic

Like the Bridge, the Frankford Civic Association never even voted on support for a zoning variance at 4271 Penn Street.

Property lawyer Dawn Tancredi from Mattioni Ltd. Counselors at Law and architect Jeremy Lecompte of design firm Harman Deutsch met a vocal handful of Frankford Civic meeting attendees, who were nervous and at times frustrated by what the pair couldn’t answer.

Questions asked: Where does the owner live? In Philadelphia? Does she own other properties in the neighborhood? Nearby?

Tancredi said the owner was a ‘Miosotis.’ City property records show that a ‘Jones Miosotis’ bought the property in October for $51,000.

Tancredi, Lecompte and at least one resident in attendance, said everything that was relevant to the zoning variance support was there, aside from owner details.

“Can you at least tell me if there are any concerns with the actual plans?” Tancredi asked.

In 1996, the three-story, 3,000 square foot home was re-zoned as a single family residence, though prior to 1949 it had four separate occupancies, Tancredi said. The current owner wants to return the building, which had once had three occupancies and a first-floor storefront, to four one-bedroom apartments, she said.

On April 20, the request for variance is due for a city Zoning Board hearing.

Tancredi offered to get those owner-specific details, but Frankford Civic Association President Brian Wisniewski said either they would have to request a continuance on the zoning hearing and return to the next Frankford meeting or go on without neighborhood support.

Tancredi said there were no plans for ‘Section 8’ housing and was uncertain about plans for whether there would be single or multiple utility meters.

Tancredi seemed surprised and flustered by the emotional backlash for what she described as a ‘simple’ case.

“It’s going to be a lot easier for you if you go back, find out these basic answers and come back so we know we’re not dealing with an absentee landlord,” said Jorge Santana, state Rep. Tony Payton’s chief of staff. “That’s not much to ask.”

Instead of that vote, an at-times heated dialogue between Bridge representatives, supporters, legislative aides and opposition raged on for nearly an hour, until attendees simply began to get up and leave. By the time Frankford Civic President Brian Wisniewski, who was leading the charge against supporting the Bridge plans and had expressed concern at the last Frankford meeting, offered up in passing the opportunity to have a vote among members, the meeting had broken up and most were filing out.

“This isn’t about this program, which, from what I’m told by people I trust, is a really good one, but this about Frankford being a dumping ground for all social services and wanting that to stop,” said Wisniewski, who cited having two brief stints at the Bridge when he was younger. “At some point, you need to make a stand and this is one to make.”

Wisniewski expressed concern with the Bridge’s outpatient program [Youtube video], which currently serves roughly 20 people, most of whom are former Bridge residents and only one of whom is older than 18, Ogden said [Youtube video response]. The Bridge is licensed to up to 70 people in outpatient care, a figure that Wisniewski says could be concerning when the money is there for it.

Jason Dawkins, a representative of Councilwoman Maria Sanchez, and Jorge Santana [Youtube video clip], the chief of staff of state Sen. Tony Payton, both made several impassioned pleas, and at times raised their voices, on the matter, saying that the Bridge cannot be put in the same category as the recovery home issues the neighborhood has raged on.

“Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” Santana said.

Wisniewski and others questioned the decision to move the facility to this particular piece of land in the 19124.

Ogden said the Bridge is seeking this Adams Avenue property because no other similar piece of land in the city would allow the organization to build a campus-like setting with basketball courts and the like. Wisniewski said land like that can be available but perhaps not at the cheap prices of “this depressed area,” which he says could continue to depress property values.

“What is the crack den that is in that location there now doing for your mother’s property value, Brian?” Santana shouted then. Wisniewski said Santana was exaggerating the danger and use of the property in its current state, which is used for dumping by the construction company that owns it. The Bridge would be signing a 20-year lease with an option for extension and to buy, Ogden said.

Northwood Civic Association President Barry Howell attended the meeting, making a case that the Bridge facility is fully in Northwood’s boundaries and so a letter of non-opposition from Frankford shouldn’t carry the same weight of one from Northwood, which last month voted to support the necessary zoning variance, following support from the civic association of adjacent Juniata.

Howell, who spoke about getting ‘threatening calls,’ circulated 1963-era incorporation records from the Northwood Civic Association, which included an official transcript with J. Walter Kline, the group’s inaugural president who was a resident of 931 Foulkrod and a clothing salesman for John Wanamaker’s in the London Shop. In that interview, Kline described the boundaries of Northwood as being between Adams Avenue, Roosevelt Boulevard, Sanger Street and Oxford Avenue. While those boundaries would include the Bridge, it would also include a rather large portion of territory that seems decidedly like Frankford, including, most tellingly, Frankford High School.

Chris Gulledge, 36, the founder of the Secret Society Car Club at 4934 Valley Street, who says he attended the Bridge himself when he was a troubled teen, again defended the facility as a good neighborhood that could help the Frankford community, as he did at last month’s meeting. Gulledge, who presented the Frankford Civic Association with a check for $500 from his car club as a token of support as part of their plans to make $10,000 worth of donations to neighborhood groups, said this isn’t a problem and shouldn’t be a boundary issue.

“This is the kind of program we want here for our young people,” he said.

No next steps were made clear as the meeting closed with members dispersing.

Also at the meeting: Jason Dawkins, representing Councilwoman Maria Sanchez, said that his office was pushing for a ‘611 action’ on T&T bar, where Frankford High School student Christopher Spence was killed in February. The action, Dawkins said, would revoke the bar’s liquor license for one calendar year and have the facility locked down by state police.

Two representatives from the city’s Managing Director’s office spoke of the new PhillyRising community action program. Next Wednesday, April 13 6 p.m. at Frankford Hospital, the program is having a community meeting to ask for suggestions about improving the neighborhood.

Additionally, a young entrepreneur showed plans for an auto repair show at 4109 Worrel Street, near Torresdale Avenue. No vote was taken.

Below watch Jim Sanders of the city’s Managing Director’s Office talk about Philly Rising.

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