Frankford Y ‘needs to be leveled,’ says Northwood civic president [VIDEO]

If action isn’t made on the historic Frankford Y, “it needs to be leveled before something awful happens there,” said Northwood Civic Association President Barry Howell Tuesday night.

“It is becoming dilapidated, and kids are starting to hang out there doing drugs and causing trouble,” Howell said at the civic group’s monthly meeting at St. James Church on Castor Avenue. “It won’t be long until someone breaks into the door and bad things are going to happen.”

In June 2009, the Frankford Y closed after nearly 70 years of serving the community. It closed in a cloud of controversy around the nonprofit’s lack of transparency and bookkeeping, made stranger still following the sudden death of its longtime director Terry Tobin.

Zoning code changes could ‘rock Northwood for the worse’

Prompted by a Daily News story citing concerns over City Council’s recent plans for revamping Philadelphia’s zoning code, Barry Howell expressed concern, saying the changes ‘could rock Northwood for the worse.’

Currently, letters of support and opposition from many civic groups throughout Philadelphia can carry weight when the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustments decides on variances or other zoning matters. Some fear changes to the code could lessen the role of civic groups.

The city’s zoning code, though, hasn’t undergone changes in 50 years, resulting in some rather strange low lights.

Learn about the city’s Zoning history here and visit

Howell credited the Northwood civic group with leading true neighborhood improvement that could be curtailed by lessening its influence with the city’s zoning board.

“Thirty or 40 years ago, before a lot of us moved here, as people moved out [of the community to the suburbs], they rented a lot of these homes to new people coming to the neighborhood but they took care of them, so it wasn’t a problem even in our deed restricted area,” Howell said. “Now the absentee landlords are from other cities and are just doing it for profit. We’ve chased down the problem areas and slowed that problem in the past couple years, so we need to able to be part of this fight.”

Since then, two proposals have come forward: a 2010 glitzy move for a purchase and  renovation from an outside development group that never fully materialized and, more recently, an idea put forward by state Rep. Tony Payton for an expanded Sankofa Academy.

“I hate to see a historical building go down, but it’s quickly becoming not safe,” Howell said. “Either we need a new use for it or we need to tear it down.”

Also at the meeting: The housing crash has slowed the speculation among properties in Northwood though existing absentee landlords and interest from respectable residents in existing properties remain problems, said local Century 21 real estate agent Michael Galdi, who specializes in the neighborhood. Proximity to Frankford is still a shortcoming, as he notes in this video. “People are going to see these houses and the interest will come,” said Howell. Howell is concerned, though, about the large housing stock that can be used illegitimately by absentee landlords or groups running unsanctioned recovery homes, as he explains in this video.

Also at the meeting: Members approved further legal action against the owner of 950 Fillmore Street, which has been caught in a zoning fight since October 2009 [at bottom of story] for an unlicensed expansion of his home.

Also at the meeting: A resident complained about the owner of 1145 Arrott Street, which she said was being operated as an apartment building without the proper zoning or business licenses. She said L&I has been investigating.

Also at the meeting: Howell has called for a new civic president, along with other new board members, “because some of us need a break and we all need new ideas. Northwood is getting better and we’re making progress…. so we need more, new energy. We need you to step up.” In his plea, Howell had noted that over the summer, he had been car jacked at Jackson and Wakeling streets, undergoing surgery.

Also at the meeting: Plans to improve and clean the 4600-block of Frankford Avenue, in addition to partnering with the Mural Arts Program were highlighted by Frankford CDC Managing Director Tracy O’Drain. See her speak below.

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