Large Holme Circle property could be future site of duplexes

“I will carry that message back,” is the answer most Holme Circle residents heard Wednesday night as they voiced concerns over the future of the Stokes house.

The house — a notable farmhouse among a sea of twins at 2976-80 Welsh Rd. — faces a questionable future as the owners, the Stokes family, prepare to move on.

Though the house dates back to the 19th Century, the Stokes family has owned the house for the last 70 years. But with the family spreading out and the cost of upkeep increasing, Samuel “Buzz” Stokes has plans to sell. And Holme Circle residents have plans to protect their neighborhood.

Mike Meehan, hired by Stokes to handle zoning for the transitioning property, attended Wednesday’s Holme Circle Civic Association meeting to present residents with Stokes’ proposal: 12 duplex properties for a total of 24 units.

The approximately 50 people at the HCCA meeting — a significantly larger turnout than usual — have every intention of fighting the proposal.

Despite the age of the home, Meehan said the property is not historical and therefore can be developed. Neighbors gave suggestions about they think should be done with the property, including selling the estate as-is, selling to a business owner such as a funeral director or even developing single-family homes.

But Stokes’ plan involves constructing 12 duplex homes — six facing Welsh Road, six facing Walnut Hill Street. Each of the 24 units would have a garage and one off-street parking space.

The mention if duplexes struck fear in residents, who said they worry about things like absentee landlords, unkempt properties, parking issues and more congestion.

Neighbors had many questions for Stokes, who Meehan said could not attend the meeting. But because Meehan was hired solely to handle the property’s zoning, he was also unable to answer several questions, including:

  • What, if any, alternatives to duplexes Stokes has considered
  • What the family plans to do for the neighborhood in exchange for developing the centuries-old property
  • What the interior layout of the proposed duplexes look like
  • If the proposed units will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act

To all of these questions, Meehan promised to “carry that message back to Stokes.”

Though Meehan has already filed with the Planning Commission to have the property subdivided into 12 separate plots, no other steps have been taken.

On the advice of Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, “we came here first,” Meehan said.

While some neighbors suggested Stokes and Meehan consult with nearby Pollock Elementary School and Winchester Swim Club, Meehan said the next logical step is to file for a zoning change with L&I. Since the property is zoned as an R5 single-family, approval from L&I or a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment will be required to develop duplexes.

Joe Razler, acting HCCA president, and the residents who packed the St. Jerome School library for the meeting, said they are prepared to fight the zoning.

Meehan vowed to present the community’s concerns to Stokes, including a request from Holmesburg Civic Association and local historian Fred Moore to find out how much Stokes would consider selling the estate for as-is.

The hour-long Q&A session is best summed up by 8th PDAC member Elsie Steves, who referred to the house as a historic gem: “We don’t want 24 rental units in our backyard.”

The Holme Circle Civic Association will next meet June 30 at 7 p.m. in St. Jerome School hall.

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