What happened next: Development and zoning

NewsWorks went back to check in on several of the stories we covered in 2014. These “what happened next” updates will run by topic. 


Can PhillyRising 2.0 give Southwest Germantown the push it needs? Feb. 26

The story: After two years of pushing, southwest Germantown became the city’s newest member of PhillyRising, a community-led program aimed at tackling quality of life issues in dim neighborhoods. With the help of the Managing Directors Office, residents were told they’d have better access to city departments and supplies for beautification. They also learned that the projects they took up would be completely up to them.

What happened next: Lifelong resident Aine Doley, who helped bring the partnership to her neighborhood, said the program isn’t going full steam ahead just yet, but it’s been encouraging nonetheless. “There is just so much to do,” she said.

In the spring, the program provided volunteers to help with a Philly Spring Clean Up event based along Germantown Avenue.  PhillyRising later gave supplies — tools, soil and plants — for a business district planting.

There was also a Rockland Street Kids Day and work done on a community garden. The program has also been helpful, she said, with getting 311 calls resolved. That’s included getting some abandoned vehicles removed. Moving forward, Doley said she’d like to get a strategy session going for what neighbors want to accomplish in 2015. “To regroup,” she said.

-Aaron Moselle

‘Fight to the death’ threatened in Chestnut Hill to stop ads on city’s rec centers and libraries, May 21

The story: In an effort to add a couple million dollars to the Philadelphia’s coffers, the city wants to affix advertisements to thousands of city vehicles and buildings, including libraries and recreation centers. Two companies applied to be part of the Municipal Advertising Program, which, according to the city’s managing director, is “breaking new ground.” One, both, or neither company could end up with a one-year contract.  Advertisements were expected to start appearing in the fall.

What happened next: The program is still in the RFP process. Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said the Nutter administration is in the process of talking to the finalists and is “nearing a final decision,” which “could come in the next couple months.”

-Aaron Moselle

Councilman Jones under ‘bizarre’ eminent-domain fire in Germany Hill development lawsuit, July 28
The story: Developer Greg Ventresca, of the Keystone Companies Group, is suing the city of Philadelphia for $2.5 million to cover his company’s costs in trying unsuccessfully to develop a strip of land in a portion of what is known as Germany Hill in Roxborough. Commonwealth Court Judge Ellen Ceisler ruled in May that Councilman Curtis Jones’s actions to prevent the construction of homes there amounted to “de facto taking of petitioner’s property.”
Neighbors of the property have long objected to any development in the 20-acre Germany Hill area. Ventresca has proposed a residential development on eight acres.
What happened next: Judge Ceisler issued a 25-page opinion in August explaining her ruling in favor of Ventresca. The city has said it will appeal the Commonwealth Court decision and was expected to file its brief in September. The city has requested two, 30-day extensions since then. Ventresca said he is waiting for an appeal hearing to be scheduled in 2015.
-Alan Jaffe

‘Beyond repair’ home at heart of historic preservation battle in Chestnut Hill, Aug. 4
The story: The proposed demolition of a historically significant but rundown house to build two new homes raised fears of a dangerous precedent in Chestnut Hill in August. Preservationists and other community leaders were concerned that losing the 104-year-old house at 415 W. Moreland Avenue and subdividing the property would lead to the razing of other buildings in the National Historic District. They sought some kind of compromise with developer Sam Blake that would restore and save the house designed by noted Philadelphia architect Charles Barton Keen.
What happened next: The 1910 house was torn down in the fall and the first of two new houses has been built and is under contract.  Will Detwiler, president of the Chestnut Hill Civic Association, said in Dec. that the new house is very attractive and “the community has moved on. We don’t sense any permanent or lasting damage in the community.”
But, Detwiler said, there is still concern over the precedent set by the change on Moreland Avenue. “That’s a much larger issue and one that the whole community has to address.”
Lori Salgonicoff, the new executive director of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, said the demolition of the house was “a wake-up call to realize there are many treasures that are not protected in Chestnut Hill — not just single buildings, but landscapes and streetscapes.”
Since the razing of the home on Moreland Avenue, the Historical Society has received calls from homeowners seeking information about preservation measures for their properties. The organization has been providing advice on obtaining conservation easements for land and historic designation for structures. “We want to manage change in a way that maintains the special character of Chestnut Hill,” Salganicoff said.
The role of the Historical Society is to educate residents about the resources all around them, Salganicoff said. The community has significant buildings erected over the past three centuries that create Chestnut Hill’s unique character, she said, and “unless we understand and appreciate and share that, we’ll lose it.”
-Alan Jaffe

Plans for 9-mile trails through Wissahickon stumble over section of Germantown Avenue
The story: The Friends of the Cresheim Trail has been working on a nine-mile project that would link the Wissahickon communities to Springfield, Whitemarsh and Cheltenham Townships in Montgomery County by way of a winding green path. The group applied for grants in Dec. 2013 to tackle the work needed to make the former Pennsylvania Railroad trestle over Germantown Avenue a walkable link in the trail. PECO, the owner of the bridge, wanted to transfer liability for the structure to the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation. The deal fell through last July, when the City Attorney’s Office recommended against the transfer.
The Friends group then began working to fund the engineering and environmental studies needed to show that the trestle could be made safe.
What happened next: Susan Dannenberg, board chair of the Friends of the Cresheim Trail, said the group approached city officials in August to get the trestle negotiations back on track. The city asked the Friends to come back with an environmental report that included the costs of remediation at the site. Developer Ken Weinstein, whose Trolley Car Diner sits in the shadow of the trestle, funded the study, which found the cost of remediation would be about $200,000 — a figure the city could work with.
Dannenberg met with leaders of the Department of Parks & Recreation, and “they seemed very enthusiastic to see this trail go forward,” she said. The city is currently exploring sources to fund the remediation project.
In the meantime, the Friends completed the Cresheim Trail from Allens Lane to Germantown Avenue in the fall. They are also looking for grants to support the completion of other parts of the trail and have received “good feedback” from the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Dannenberg said.
-Alan Jaffe
Construction finally set to begin at 8200 Germantown Ave. site, Aug. 21
The story:  More than a year after construction had been scheduled to begin, pieces started to fall into place at 8200 Germantown Ave, the long-vacant former home of Magarity Ford and future home to Fresh Market.
At the time, Seth Shapiro, a developing consultant for Bowman Properties, said the anticipated opening of the market was to be fall 2015, following a lengthy construction period. The building plans had not changed in any significant way.

In addition to the market, the property will include 17 condominiums on the four floors above it. The cost of the retail/residential project is estimated at $30 million.

What happened next: Much of the initial work was not visible to passers-by as the site includes underground parking. The so-called “vertical construction” has recently become evident. Construction is still set to be complete late next year. 
-Neema Roshania
Maplewood Mall redesign proposals shared at public meeting in Germantown, Sept. 11
The story:  More than 70 residents and stakeholders gathered at a public meeting where the $2.2 million Maplewood Mall revitalization project’s lead consultant revealed the redesign’s first-draft alternatives.

City officials were also on hand for the Sept. session, held at the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown on West Chelten Avenue, to solicit input from community members.

It was the first of two such sessions with local engineering firm Whitman, Requardt & Associates.

What happened next: When it comes to progress on the long-awaited redesign of Germantown’s Maplewood Mall, it’s a matter of what lies beneath, according to Philadelphia City Planning Commission Northwest Senior Planner Matt Wysong.

“At the moment, we’re finalizing schematic designs for the mall, and that’s really the last step before we go into full engineering,” he said.

The schematic designs, which he said won’t be viewable until a public meeting in early 2015 (date TBA), will confirm major elements like road alignment and the look of the new plazas.

Once those construction documents are finalized, the engineering phase will allow “wiggle room to do some small changes with some of the more fine-tuned details of the mall,” he added: things like building materials, landscaping, and the public art element of the redesign.

When the project was originally announced in June 2013, construction was projected to begin in early 2015, but Wysong said things have been delayed somewhat, and he now predicts the building will begin in 2016, with completion estimated for the following year.

“It proved to be a little bit more of a difficult project than we had initially anticipated,” he explained. Maplewood Mall is a tiny street, but there’s a lot going under the ground, and dealing with so many City agencies has slowed progress on the design.

“There is every single utility you could think of buried underneath there,” Wysong said of what’s hiding under those notoriously lumpy bricks. “You have a whole neighborhood’s worth of utilities buried under one street.”

In addition, project leaders are coordinating with the Streets Department, Parks and Recreation, and the Water Department, to ensure the mall’s storm-water management plan will be up to code.

“If this was a simple street reconstruction, it’d be a little easier,” Wysong said.

And how have the locals been responding to progress so far?

“We’re getting a full spectrum of opinion,” he said carefully. “Our job is to strike a balance there… [But] I think people will be happy with the final product.”

-Alaina Mabaso

Queen Lane Apartments tower reduced to rubble after Saturday morning implosion , Sept. 13.

The story: After more than three years of community meetings and intense debate, Queen Lane Apartments was demolished to make way for a brand new low-density development. The tower’s brief, but dramatic demise was seen by most in Germantown as the start of a new chapter, and, hopefully, a clean break with a property that had become an eyesore and a nuisance by the end of its nearly 60-year life.

What happened next: In mid-December, elected officials joined PHA brass for a ceremonial groundbreaking at an empty lot where, over the course of the next year, 55 new rental units will rise. PHA’s Executive Director Kelvin Jeremiah couldn’t be happier that this day has finally come.

“We’re ready to go,” he said. “We’re excited about the prospect of really beginning the work of revitalizing Queen Lane.  

Nearby residents are equally enthused, including Corliss Gray, who lived across the street from the high-rise for five decades. “

Hallelujah. Our day has come,” she said at the groundbreaking. ‘I’m so glad to see everybody coming together. No more fighting. Let’s go ahead and get this job done.”

PHA has agreed to preserve and build around the roughly two-acre footprint of a Potter’s Field and erect a marker to honor those buried there in the 18th century.

-Aaron Moselle

If you have any Northwest Philadelphia stories from 2014 that you’d like NewsWorks to follow up on, please email us.

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