Holy Family’s plan for Liddonfield property receives applause, cheers from Upper Holmesburg residents [video]

Of the 20 proposals awaiting consideration from the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the one from Holy Family University for the redevelopment of Liddonfield has the support of the Upper Holmesburg community.

If it wasn’t the speeches from Sr. Francesca Onley of HFU, 6th District Councilman Bobby Henon, developer John Parsons, Upper Holmesburg Civic Association President Stan Cywinski or UHCA board member Paul DeFinis, it was the applause and cheers from the 50-plus residents in attendance that proved the neighborhood is ready for a change.

Planning for Liddonfield’s future began early last year when the UHCA started working with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission to revitalize the neighborhood according to Philadelphia2035 goals.

“We were very practiced in our process, and that just may be our saving grace,” DeFinis said of his hopes that the effort Upper Holmesburg has made will be enough for the PHA.

With the help of politicians at the city, state and federal levels; a petition 4,000 signatures long; and support from the Holmesburg, Holme Circle, East Torresdale, Tacony and Morrell Park civic associations; the UHCA now waits to hear if the PHA will enter an agreement with Holy Family.

If that’s the case, John Parsons of BSI Construction (Island Green Country Club), outlined what he stressed are conceptual plans his development company has for the Liddonfield property at Torresdale Avenue and Megargee Street.

The “plan conforms with everything,” Parsons said, meaning the design meets neighborhood improvement and green space elements the Planning Commission and Mayor Michael Nutter have stressed, as well as early desires expressed by the PHA and Upper Holmesburg residents. Though the PHA has since removed its requirement that the new development include 20 acres of greenspace, the plan Parsons outlined last night stuck with the original guidelines.

See video below of BSI Construction’s John Parsons explaining plans for the Liddonfield redevelopment

As he pointed toward a small poster board packed with renderings, Parsons — a Father Judge High School graduate who grew up in Frankford — explained the basic elements of the conceptual plans Holy Family has:

  • three buildings for either student or faculty housing, or educational purposes
  • street-level boutique shops and restaurants
  • soccer, lacross, baseball and softball fields
  • assisted-living housing

Parons and Onley couldn’t answer specifics about how many beds the HFU housing would have, or how many residents the assisted-living facility would service, but plans call for two- to three-story residences atop first-floor shops.

See video below of  Sister Francesca Onley discussing how Holy Family University’s redevelopment plans for Liddonfield would benefit the school

“We’re not looking to put in bars,” Parsons said of early plans for retailers. Citing similar developments on campuses at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, Parsons envisioned coffee shops and restaurants that could service the campus and surrounding neigborhood.

Torresdale Avenue — a focus of the UHCA’s work with the Planning Commission — is meant to benefit from the redevelopment, which would have 24-hour security and parking in the back, away from the street.

“We need something [on the avenue] to make that impact,” he said. “I think we’re onto something.”

The promise of 600 parking spots and additional plans Parsons said he couldn’t specify just yet satisfied Upper Holmesburg residents who worried parking would be a nuisance. But unless and until the PHA accepts the proposal from Holy Family, Onley couldn’t answer questions about how late sports games will go on and if the lights on the new campus will keep neighbors up.

‘We want to be a solution, we want to be a good neighbor,” Parons stressed.

Nineteen others want to be a neighbor, too. Aside from the original proposal from the locally grown Philadelphia Sports Zone, Henon said other proposals called for variations of low-income or market-rate housing, commerical developments and a Walmart.

See video below of Bobby Henon sharing his thoughts on Holy Family University’s plans to redevelop Liddonfield

Henon said the Liddonfield redevelopment should “showcase the Northeast, showcase Upper Holmesburg, showcase East Torresdale.”

Though the residents who waited years to see the dilapidated public housing project might not like it, Liddonfield was part of Upper Holmesburg’s showcase for more than half a century. That’s why one resident is determined to make sure her former home didn’t disappear completely during demolition.

Rosemary Reeves runs PublicHousingStories.com, a blog devoted to telling stories from public housing, including her own from Liddonfield. Reeves’s request to place a historical marker on the site commemorating Liddonfield was well-received last night by Onley, Henon, Parsons and the UHCA board.

But Reeves admitted last night she’s got a long wait before any marker gets placed. With proposals only recently submitted to the PHA, the authority now has to run the ideas through its legal department, and then pass them onto a selection committee. The whole process could take 180 days, but Parsons said the plans and finances are in place to begin the Holy Family project by the spring or summer.

“By no means do I think this is going to be a walk in the park,” Cywinski said.

He wants the UHCA to be prepared for “speedbumps” and potential legal action. But after more than a year of gearing up for change, Cywinski is ready to push for what Upper Holmesburg wants.

“We’re not gonna lay down and roll over.”

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