Wednesday meeting to address proposed historic district designation for Roxborough and Manayunk

With a city Planning Commission effort already underway to manage future development in historic Roxborough neighborhoods, another grassroots mission — this one meant to preserve historic properties in the first place — is also in its early stages.

Wednesday night, Roxborough and Manayunk residents are invited to a meeting on the possible formation of local and national historic districts, aimed at protecting significant properties and maintaining the area’s historic flavor. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at Journey’s Way, 403 Rector St., and feature representatives of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, discussing various approaches.

The Roxborough catalyst 

Bob Spear is a Lyceum Avenue resident among the group of neighbors and civic group leaders who have been meeting to discuss various approaches to manage a wave of residential home building, especially in the streets off Ridge Avenue.

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Spear, a high school English and history teacher, describes himself as one of many who were spurred to action by the demolition earlier this year of the Bunting House at Ridge and Roxborough avenues. The idea, he said, isn’t to tell people what they can and can’t do with properties but put strategies in place to manage what is already happening.

“The main thing is to really let people know what can be done,” he said. “The first thing is raising awareness, letting people know this is a historic area.”

In general terms, there are three approaches:

A National Historic District is the least restrictive classification, focused on providing incentives, usually through tax credits, for those looking to improve historic and significant properties. Spear said the boundaries of a proposed national district are fairly broad right now, possibly including parts of central Roxborough and Manayunk.
Another approach would be creating a Roxborough Historic District through the Philadelphia Historical Commission, a more restrictive — or prescriptive, depending on your viewpoint– approach, Spear said. Manayunk’s Main Street has had such a district since 1984.
A third method for preservation is the historic designation of individual properties, which can be done with or without the property owner’s involvement. It’s a tactic sometimes used successfully by preservationists looking to block proposed demolitions or redevelopments.

Guiding development in ‘the proper fashion’ 

The effort to create a historic district in Roxborough is being mounted simultaneous to, but separate from, the city Planning Commission and Central Roxborough Civic Association’s work to create a new zoning overlay or conservation district to manage the redevelopment of other residential properties.

Matt Wysong, the city’s Northwest community planner, said the historic designation approach is meant to preserve what’s existing now, while zoning changes can prescribe appropriate future uses. The point is to be both tactical and tactful.

“It’s all related,” he said. “It’s really about picking the right tool for these properties.”

Wysong said since the Planning Commission staff got involved at the request of neighbors, who first approached the city with a list of properties felt to be at risk. And since a May 2 meeting of the Central Roxborough Civic Association where the rezoning effort was first laid out, others have stepped forward with more suggestions.

“We’re not trying to stop development in Roxborough, it just needs to be guided in the proper fashion,” Wysong said.

Check NewsWorks Thursday for a full report from Wednesday night’s meeting.

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

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