Germany Hill development battle heats up in NW Philly

A battle is brewing over the latest plans to build a new neighborhood on part of Germany Hill, the undeveloped 20-acre tract in Roxborough and Manayunk.

Greg Ventresca, who owns an eight-acre portion of the hilly, wooded site, presented plans last week for a rental development that would be built off Parker Avenue. He and his lawyer, Darwin Beauvais, faced a hostile crowd at the Ridge Park Civic Association, whose members shouted their opposition to the plan and voted almost unanimously against it.

This week, Beauvais called the civic’s attitude “unreasonable,” and characterized them as unwilling to discuss ways to make any development on the site workable.

“We still want to move on with this,” Beauvais said this week, saying he hoped the civic would be willing to sit down with his client to work on a way to make a project work at the site.

Since 2005, Ventresca has received two preliminary approvals for residential developments at the site, both over objections from neighbors and the civic association, but neither plan came to fruition. The latest version calls for 32 rental townhouses created along a new portion of Cinnaminson Street, off Parker Avenue.

One objection civic officials made was that to access the site, a street would need to be opened across the portion of the tract owned by the city Parks and Recreation Department. Beauvais called that stance hypocritical, noting that as part of discussions with Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.’s office on a possible land swap, Ventresca was offered a city-owned parcel of parkland near Ridge Avenue and Bells Mills Road.

“They’re being totally unreasonable, because they don’t even want to sit down and talk,” Beauvais said.

But Patti Brennan, vice president of the RPCA, said her group had withdrawn its support of swapping the Germany Hill property for the Bells Mill one, for the very reason Beauvais mentioned.

“We couldn’t go and do to Upper Roxborough what we didn’t want done to us,” Brennan said Friday. She objected to the idea that her group would have a knee-jerk objection to any development on Germany Hill, but said the plan Ventresca presented last week wasn’t complete.

The RPCA has hired lawyer Vern Anastasio to help coordinate a possible land swap, ideally for another property within the 4th District.

“I could just keep saying no, and hope that they take it and go away, but realistically, I’m operating in good faith with our attorney to help them find another property,” Brennan said.

Either way, it seems Jones’ office will remain in the middle of the dispute. The Councilman is on record saying he supports keeping Germany Hill as open space, and previously submitted, then withdrew, a bill that would have effectively cut off access to the site. But in order for Ventresca’s plan to go through, the Councilman would have to move a bill to open the portion of Cinnaminson Street that now exists only on paper.

“I guess Councilman Jones has to make a decision of whether he’s going to back the residents and taxpayers, or a landowner that lives outside the city,” Brennan said.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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