Ridge Avenue demolition moratorium spurs demolition requests

A proposed demolition mortarium on Ridge Avenue, in Northwest Philadelphia, has spurred a wave of demolition applications.

The bill, introduced by Councilman Curtis Jones, would apply to a five-mile stretch of the thoroughfare that runs between Wissahickon Creek and Northwestern Avenue on the Montgomery County border.

Ridge Avenue is lined with old stone houses and inns, some dating back to the 1700s. At a Rules Committee hearing last week, the Historical Commission’s Jon Farnham gave an overview of the roadway’s history, which predates European colonization.

“We wanted to avoid a stampede of people going to file demolition permits to have them on the books so they could circumvent this review,” said Jones at the committee hearing, where the bill passed unanimously.

But records from the Department of Licenses and Inspections show that since the bill’s late September introduction, six demolition permits have been filed on this length of Ridge Avenue. All of them were applied for between October 13 and October 18, the day that the Planning Commission considered the bill.

In 2016 only two demolition permits were requested for the same part of Ridge Avenue. In 2015, three permits were requested and in 2014 just one permit.

“This is illustrative of why the councilman introduced the demolition moratorium,” said Patrick Grossi, advocacy director for the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. “These could be projects that had been in the works for some time. Then when the owner or developer got word of the pending moratorium they made sure to get their demolition permit request in before it became a reality.”

The six properties in the crosshairs all are relatively close to each other, ranging from 6526 Ridge Avenue up to 6649 Ridge Avenue.

Expediter Quest Design Services applied for all the demo permits. The company did not return a request for comment. (The properties are owned by a hodgepodge of LLCs that are mostly named after the street addresses.)

In the last six weeks, the Historical Commission surveyed the over 500 buildings on this five-mile stretch of Ridge and determined that roughly 317 could potentially be deemed historically notable.

Jones’s moratorium would last for only one year, or until the Historical Commission protects 25 percent of the buildings on the relevant section of Ridge. It is unlikely the latter would occur if protection efforts were limited to individual nominations to the local historic register. Across the city, only a couple dozen of these efforts are approved by the commission every year.

But a memo circulated at the December Historical Commission meeting shows that the agency’s staff expect to submit a nomination for a “Ridge Avenue Roxborough Thematic Historic District” by the summer of 2018. It is projected to cover 80 buildings. This year two new staffers were added to the tiny agency, in hopes that it would pursue historic protectins more vigorously. 

The moratorium bill is expected to be approved by the full City Council on Thursday. A spokesperson for the administration says Mayor Kenney will sign the bill. 

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