Zoning board delays vote on Northern Children’s Services expansion project by two weeks

The zoning board is now considering plans for a $4.2 million project at Northern Children’s Services in Roxborough that would significantly expand housing for homeless mothers and their kids.

The group needs several variances before it can begin work on Merrick Hall, a 140-year-old building on campus at 5301 Ridge Ave., to create transitional living spaces for up to 12 women and 16 children. A paperwork hangup related to the new city Zoning Code caused a vote to be delayed, and the board will issue a decision in two weeks.

“The object is to provide transitional housing for these mothers and children while they acquire life skills,” said attorney Ralph Pinkus, representing NCS.

Merrick Hall, once used as dormitory space for orphaned boys who lived at the Northern Home, has been empty since 1998 and needs major renovation. The expansion would create eight four-bedroom group living units and four two-bedroom apartments, along with shared kitchen space and on-site day care, Pinkus said.

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The young mothers who live there as part of NCS’s Generations program are expected to have jobs or be in school or training as they age out of foster care and move on to independent adult living.

The plan has the approval of the Wissahickon Interested Citizens Association, which provided a letter of support. The expansion also has the support of Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.

NCS’s plan also received a go-ahead after a so-called Section 106 review, required any time federal money or federal action would affect a historic property. Late last year, the project also received a $1 million grant through the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Programming fund.

“There will not be any real significant impact on the neighborhood,” Pinkus said. “We think there will be a substantial benefit in the community because of the unique services that are being provided.”

ZBA Chairwoman Lynette Brown-Sow asked Pinkus to put that in writing, and said the board would issue a decision after it is received. After the meeting, Pinkus said the statement may be a requirement under the new zoning code, asking applicants to give detailed information on the relief they seek and why it should be granted.

“I believe they support it, but I have to give them the information,” Pinkus 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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