Layout of Mt. Airy townhome project revealed

The long abandoned site and burnt shell of the Garrett-Dunn house has been an eyesore and concern for many on Germantown Avenue.

Now the new owner of 7048 Germantown Ave is planning to bring this site back to life with new townhouse construction.

Iron Stone, a land and real estate development company, bought this foreclosed property from the bank six months ago. The developer Andrew Eisenstein provided a preview of the project Wednesday night. He spoke to a group of NW Philly residents gathered at Neighborhood Interfaith Movement (NIM) offices. Last year he met with representatives from NIM and West Mt. Airy Neighbors for similar meetings.

“We specialize in working in neighborhoods and city environments,” said Eisenstein. “It is a plus that it is located on Germantown Avenue where a lot is happening and within walking distance- the Acme is next door, a playground across the street, with a coffee shop, theatre, gym, bank and restaurants on the next block.”

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The developer would like to attract intergenerational home buyers- some young families looking to move from center city and some older families who want to downsize but still stay in their community. Iron Stone was the developer behind Falls Center, a luxury apartment complex in East Falls.

Right now the site plan has 26 housing units with some common space for community use. Each one will be a three-story townhouse, with a basement for storage, and adjacent parking space for a car. In addition, there will also be options for elevators, and energy enhancements like solar panels. The size and price range from smaller units of 1900 square feet for $325,000 to larger units of 2500 square feet for $450,000.

NIM, located right across the street from this site, offers programs to help seniors live independently. Executive Director George Stern noted that “There is a lack of housing for older people to stay in this community as they age.”

Many at the community meeting were empty nesters that live in large 5-6 bedroom houses and are starting to think about downsizing. George Herold and his wife rattle around a 5 bedroom, 4,000 square foot house in Mt. Airy. Dirdrah Watson lives in a 6-bedroom house with her cat in Germantown. Their homes are too big for their lifestyles but they all want to stay in NW Philadelphia. As Dale Friedman put it: “We don’t want to lose the human capital of our community.”

The site for this development has a long and checkered history. The commercial aristocratic family of Dunn-Garrett built a summer cottage in the 1850s on some farmland at the edge of the city. It was designed by the area’s foremost architect, Thomas Ustick Walter, and had certain features, like its Greek revival façade, that landed it on the national and local registers of historic places.

After decades of neglect and vacancy, John Capoferri bought the property. He had plans to restore the house and develop it a few years ago but got into financial difficulties that lead to his arrest and loss of the property to the bank. Then the property was struck by lightening on August 2, 2009 and burned down. What was left was a financially distressed and abandoned piece of property in a not so good housing market that did not seem to have a bright future.

But now, a rebirth is taking place on this site. The next several months will be used to finalize the development design and to obtain zoning approval. If all goes according to plan, construction would start this Fall. The new houses, a rare commodity in Mt. Airy, should be available for occupancy in the summer of 2012.

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