Roxborough community petitions against proposed Wendy’s at former Bunting House site

During last fall’s controversy in Roxborough over the demolition of the historic Bunting House, property owners Frank and Tony Giovannone gave few public details about their future plans for what is now a large, empty lot on a busy Ridge Avenue corner.

Any number of ideas and rumors were floated or leaked from discussions between the Giovannones and a committee of local officials, neighbors and civic representatives put together by Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.’s office. From talk of an expansion of the nearby Rite-Aid to an idea to put a KFC inside the 19th-century Bunting House at 5901 Ridge Ave, it was clear — though never confirmed — that the Giovannones’ plans would involve a large national chain retailer.

But when the property owners sought, and eventually received, a permit to demolish the Bunting House and several empty adjacent buildings, they didn’t simultaneously seek permits for a new development. That’s not a requirement, but is often the practice of property owners and developers who go before the city Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Preparing for a fight 

On Monday, attorney Carl Primavera confirmed that the Giovannones have a preliminary site plan for the property that includes a drive-through fast-food restaurant, likely a Wendy’s. Already, some neighbors and activists who fought the demolition are gearing up for a battle.

Attorney Hal Schirmer, who argued unsuccessfully in court to block the demolition, alerted the community Friday that the Wendy’s plan was a go. By Sunday night, a Facebook page protesting the move was active and an online petition is now gathering a steady stream of signatures from those who say Ridge Avenue doesn’t need another fast-food outlet, especially one within steps of Roxborough Memorial Hospital.

Primavera said everyone involved in the previous discussions, including Josh Cohen from Jones’ office, the Roxborough Development Corporation and some local civic representatives, was privy to the Giovanonnes’ likely plans for the property, so no one should feign surprise now.

The property, actually five separate lots that would be combined into one, is zoned CMX-2, a neighborhood commercial category with allowable uses including retail stores, pet shops, groceries, and sit-down restaurants. Take-out restaurants are not barred, but require a special use exception permit and a plan to deal with trash, meaning the owners would likely face opposition at a zoning hearing.

Site’s zoning history

The property’s previous owner had received zoning approval for a residential development on the site at Ridge and Roxborough avenues, though it never materialized. That previous plan was part of Schirmer’s earlier legal arguments and would likely figure into a future appeal.

“[Schirmer’s] argument was basically, well, you have other options,” Primavera said. “Those options would have been implemented if in fact they had been viable.”

On Monday, Schirmer suggested one legal gambit to stop the Wendy’s development might be to have a group of activists file to have the previous permit re-activated. While property owners who have agreements with developers often let the future owner act as the applicant before the city, it’s unclear whether a group with no financial interest or legal claim to a parcel could do the same.

Primavera waved off that notion, saying applicants seeking development approvals on properties they do not yet own must certify to the city Department of Licenses and Inspections that they are authorized to do so.

“That would be like me calling up the city and saying I want a demolition permit for [your] house,” he said. “I don’t mind him being creative, but I don’t want him to be disingenuous.”

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 atazquinn@planphilly.com.

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