Triumph Baptist senior-housing plan approved, but Rev. Hall can’t discuss it

A plan by Triumph Baptist Church and Universal Companies to build a senior housing development in Nicetown got city zoning board approval Wednesday, but an attorney for the project’s key figure wouldn’t let him talk about it.

In a unanimous 5-0 vote, the board granted a needed use variance for Triumph’s Victory Village, a two-phase project that would see 50 units at first, followed by a second building later, on a vacant industrial lot at 1801 Courtland St. The church will hold a 99-year lease on the property, which it purchased in 1998.

The property is owned by Triumph Baptist Church, and will be developed by Universal Community Homes and Triumph Community Development Corporation. The church’s pastor, James Hall, and Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass were among about two dozen people who lined up to support the proposal.

A muzzled blessing

According to a recent Philadelphia Inquirer report based on a leaked confidential state audit, Hall and an aide were placed on the payroll of the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC), a non-profit with ties to state Rep. Dwight Evans, at the powerful legislator’s request.

The report said Hall and church’s financial manager received $365,000 through UAC, which the pastor and the aide, Frances Stallings, said was used to fund pre-construction planning on the Courtland Street development.

After the zoning board hearing, Hall said the ruling was an emotional moment, a blessing, and would allow the church to realize a dream it has had for several years. At that point, attorney Robert L. Archie stepped in, refusing to let Hall make further comment on the project or anything else.

Details of the plan

Triumph’s Victory Village Phase I would see 50 one- and two-bedroom apartment units, with a circular driveway entrance off 18th Street and a gated 28-space parking lot off Courtland.

Tamelia Hinson, at the meeting representing Universal Companies, said they are hoping to receive tax credits through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency to fund part of the $15 million development. The project has already received $1.5 million in city funding, and an unnamed equity investor is also involved, she said.

Asked about any connection to the leaked audit, or any potentially improper funding, Hinson said “that has nothing to do with our projects.”

She said Universal hopes to break ground next October, and construction on the first phase should take about a year (proposal PDF).

No opposition or notification?

There was no opposition voiced to the Triumph plan, though the owner of the property immediately adjacent said he wasn’t included in community notifications about the senior housing plan.

Leon Sowisdral lives in Roxborough but owns a warehouse at the tip of North 18th Street, where it meets Windrim Avenue.

He said he saw the zoning notice posted on the property announcing the hearing Wednesday, but hadn’t been notified of any of the three community meetings held to discuss the plan.

After the meeting, Sowisdral said he wasn’t there in opposition to the plan, but had concerns about crime and traffic in the area.

Supporters of the Triumph plan said the senior housing would be a plus for the neighborhood, and was a natural next step from Universal’s Nicetown Court I and Nicetown Court II developments along Germantown Avenue.

A Universal project

Universal Property Management will run the senior building, said attorney Allison Levy, who presented the case to the zoning board.

Levy said the senior housing would keep more older area residents in their own homes and neighborhood, and fits with the goals of more transit-oriented development in Nicetown.

Bass, who also contributed a letter in favor of the proposal, said she appeared to show her strong support.

“Nicetown, as you know, is on the rise,” she said. “This is another piece of the puzzle we desperately need.”

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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