The East Falls Community Council (EFCC) met on Monday night in the East Falls Presbyterian Church and voted in favor of changing the zoning of the property at 3549 Sunnyside Ave, but the decision was met with criticism by some area residents.
The vote came after George Grigonis III, the owner of the property at 3549 Sunnyside, requested a zoning variance that would allow him to make the single-family row home into a multi-family house with an additional 700 square foot commercial rental space.
Grigonis purchased the 4,000 square foot property in June 2009, and said that he had completely revamped the house from its rundown state.
“The house hasn’t been used right for a number of years,” said Grigonis, who is also a member of the EFCC’s Zoning Committee. Grigonis and his lawyer, Michael Markovitz, who also attended the meeting, contended that the property at 3549 Sunnyside had historically been used for both commercial and residential purposes. “It’s huge—it doesn’t really conform to the neighborhood around it. We figure that this is probably the best and most low-impact use of this area. The best thing for this building would be to give generous spaces to potential tenants.”
The Zoning Committee supported Grigonis’ request, and held a meeting on Dec. 8 for residents to discuss its recommendation.
“We had good turnout for that meeting and a lot of good discussion from the neighborhood…it was difficult,” said Roger Marsh, Secretary of the Zoning Committee and the second Vice President of the EFCC. “It’s a residential neighborhood and we’ve struggled with it. We ended up favoring the three residential units and some commercial use. This place was a total dump, and George has done a lot of work on it.”
Marsh added that while “at the meeting itself, there certainly was not universal support for this,” the neighbors of the properties directly abutting the house did not oppose the proposed zoning change.
“A number of the people most affected agreed that this was a reasonable use,” said Marsh.
The meeting on Monday was attended by about 30 East Falls residents, some of whom made impassioned pleas against rezoning the property.
“There are a lot of other properties within this block that are at least as big if not bigger,” said Sue Hauck, a resident of East Falls who lives on the 3500 block of Sunnyside Ave. She and several other East Falls residents at the meeting argued that the property did not warrant a rezoning, claiming that many area homes that are just as large as 3549 Sunnyside are zoned for single-family use and have been occupied for years.
“I felt a bit betrayed,” said Marianne Vadorsky, another resident from the 3500 block of Sunnyside. Vadorsky said that when Grigonis originally purchased the property, he had told the other residents who live on the block that he would not pursue a rezoning of the land.
“I understand people’s feelings but I’ve got to be real,” said Grigonis, after the meeting. “We can’t sit here and live in some sort of jaded vision of the world. That house wasn’t a sustainable model. That’s why it ended up the way it was. I think that with what I am doing, I am taking the risk to try and make this a sustainable model.”
Those at the meeting who opposed the rezoning said that residential renters could negatively alter the character of the neighborhood, and that the commercial space could become home to an unsavory business or a business with high traffic and large parking needs.
“I have a concern in general as far as encouraging rental properties,” said Vadorsky. “I would like to encourage home ownership because I think the people care about the area more. And why do we need a commercial space there? Ridge Avenue is where the commercial strip of East Falls is and should be.”
“It’s a huge building that is antiquated as a single house,” said Adam Caragni, the former president of the EFCC. “Nobody is gonna buy a $500,000 rowhouse.”
Caragni and other residents at the meeting argued that any business which would rent the commercial portion of 3549 Sunnyside would not be able to attract heavy traffic due to the positioning of the property in the neighborhood.
“If he was gonna put anything in there that needed any traffic, it’s done for,” said Caragni.
“I bought the Sunnyside property because I don’t like seeing plywood over windows and decrepit windows in the neighborhood I live in,” said Grigonis, who added that, because he lived within two blocks of Sunnyside Ave. on New Queen Street, he would try to ensure that the renters of both the apartments and the commercial property would not be disturbances to neighbors.
“You are good neighbors, and you are what make up the fabric of the neighborhood,” said Grigonis. “I came from a neighborhood where everyone sold out. I plan on being here for the long haul.”
Grigonis meets with the Philadelphia Licenses and Inspection’s Zoning Board of Adjustments today for a public hearing.