L&I issues ‘stop work order’ on historic Roxborough property at 365 Green Lane

 Called the 'Benjamin Kenworthy House,' 365 Green Lane sits back from the road at the top of the hill above Manayunk Avenue. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks, file)

Called the 'Benjamin Kenworthy House,' 365 Green Lane sits back from the road at the top of the hill above Manayunk Avenue. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks, file)

Concern over the fate of a historic Roxborough property is growing alongside a “stop work order” issued on the property — 365 Green Lane — last week by the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections.

According to community attorney Hal Schirmer, L&I issued the violation for beginning demolition without a permit after property owner, Todd Joseph, brought the home’s garden shed to a pile of rubble.

In July, Joseph — who bought the historic Victorian style home in Dec. 2013 — appeared before the Zoning Board of Adjustments to seek approval for the complete demolition of the existing structure in order to build eight new units. After community pushback, he reduced the planned number of units to six.

Joseph, who bought the property for $200,100, cited “economic hardship” as his reason to demolish.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The ZBA denied Joseph’s request citing a recent zoning remapping that limited the property’s use to a single-family dwelling. By right, Joseph could still potentially still knock the historic house down and build two units on the property.

Community preservation

Don Simon, president of the Central Roxborough Civic Association says Joseph was notified of the community’s rezoning, which was conducted in the exact effort to protect homes such as 365 Green Lane, yet Joseph moved forward with the purchase anyway.

“The neighbors are pretty upset about this,” Simone says. “It’s a significant house that was built in the 19th century and has often been considered the gateway house to Roxborough as you come up from Manayunk on Green Lane.”

“Joseph saw an opportunity in 365 Green Lane, but he got in over his head with this one,” says Schirmer. “I don’t think he expected the community to put up the fight that it has.”

For Kay Sykora, the community’s stand against the demolition of 365 Green Lane is just one necessary battle in the war for neighborhood conservation.

“If we roll over and let this happen, there’s the concern that it will start a precedent,” she says. “As a community, we are not opposed to new construction, as long as it stays committed to preserving the established character of our neighborhood.”

Sykora notes that instances such as 365 Green Lane as well the Bunting House on the corner of Ridge and Roxborough avenues, which was razed in Dec. 2012 for what may potentially become a Wendy’s, has heightened the community’s awareness.

Going forward

At this week’s Central Roxborough Civic Association meeting, which will take place Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Leverington Presysterian Church, the Lower Northwest District Plan will present a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay to the City Planning Commission.

The district plan has identified Central Roxborough as a priority for a zoning overlay that will allow for continued growth while preserving the neighborhood’s character and aesthetic. The conservation overlay will apply only to new construction and will not affect existing structures.

After receiving the “stop work order,” Joseph was able to obtain a temporary license for certain areas of the home, and neighbors have commented that Joseph is finding ways to allow the house to fall into a state of disrepair. Though he has put it back on the market, he is asking for $359,000 — more than $150,000 more than what he paid.

According to Schirmer, there are still many hoops to jump through before complete demolition is possible.

“We declare victory in the skirmish and then wait and see,” says Schirmer.

Joseph did not return calls for comment. 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal