NewsWorks went back to check in on several of the stories it covered this year. These “What Happened Next” updates will run through the remainder of 2013.
Cedarbrook man, son identified as victims in Friday’s Wissahickon Creek drownings, Sept. 8
The Story: Father and son Pete and Jordan Luciano drowned in Devil’s Pool, a popular spot for swimming in Wissahickon Creek during the summer months. When Jordan, 13, began to struggle his dad went in the water after him, the rest of the family who witnessed the event, reported. Neither would return.
The Philadelphia Police Department’s Marine Unit arrived after the men slipped beneath the surface for the last time. The Marine Unit pulled their bodies out of the opposite side of the creek.
According to NBC10’s Daralene Jones search of police records, 17 people have been rescued from Wissahickon Creek since 2010.
What Happened Next: Matthew Luciano, who lost his father and brother in the creek, created a petition to “Protect and secure the people from dying in watered areas.”
“They were the sixth and seventh people to drown in Philadelphia this year,” said Luciano. Other numbers show that Pete and Jordan were the fifth and sixth people to drown.
Since September, Luciano has gathered 500 signatures and will give himself until the end of December to hit his goal of 1,000.
There are “no signs whatsoever” by the edge of the water near Valley Green Inn, where the Luciano family ran to report their family members’ disappearance. “It’s not secured like it should be,” chides Luciano, who calls for trees to be removed and lights and signs to be added to the area, warning potential swimmers.
Coupled with the petition is a fundraiser, aiming to collect $275,000 to secure the banks of the Wissahickon.
“I’m ticked off that the news channels were not at the side [where they went in] — they went [to the side] where they were picked up,” so the news camera’s did not broadcast how unsecured the area is.
“If the US can barricade our Mexicans from crossing the border, then why can’t we barricade the river,” said Luciano. (Laura Benshoff)
Potential conversion of St. Bridget School into apartments gets mixed reaction in East Falls, Sept. 10
The Story: A handful of East Falls residents received a hint of what is to come to the former St. Bridget Elementary School site. Located on Stanton Street, the school was shuttered last year as a part of an Archdiocese-wide effort to staunch deficits at the parish level.
The former-school property is currently under contract to developer Gary Jonas and his company, HOW Properties. Jonas said he plans approximately 32 apartments for the property’s two adjoining buildings.The residence would consist of a mixture of one and two-bedroom units and multi-level lofts aimed at young professionals drawn by easy access to the nearby SEPTA Manayunk-Norristown Regional-Rail line.
Jonas did not provide a targeted price tag for the units, but said that he planned them as rentals with a possible option to buy. The envisioned timeline for the project would be about 14-to-16 months from the time permits are secured from the city.
What Happened Next: Reached at his HOW properties office, Jonas said in early December that a second private meeting with neighbors is planned for early January, followed by a formal presentation to the zoning board of the East Falls Community Council later that month. (Matthew Grady)
A guide to preventing car break-ins in Northwest Philadelphia, Sept. 16
The story: Throughout the Northwest, car breaks-ins are an ongoing nuisance for police and residents alike. What frustrates many Philadelphia police commanders is that the decidedly low-tech crimes are almost entirely preventable.
To help police get the message out, NewsWorks teamed up with Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum of the 14th Police District to see what people are leaving in their cars. The finding: everything, from cash to checks to electronics, sometimes in unlocked vehicles.
What Happened Next: In December, police in the 14th District are reporting a 15 percent decrease in thefts from cars from the previous year. Mt. Airy witnessed a dramatic drop in the offenses, but the area around Wayne and Chelten avenues continues to be a target for thieves.
Pockets of car-break ins will occur — Northwestern Ave. in Chestnut Hill and Cedarbrook recently saw spikes. Police continue to ask the public to lock their doors and remove all valuables.
Roxborough High rolls out unique welcome wagon for new students, Sept. 17
The Story: In June, Germantown High School was one 24 schools that closed as a result of the Philadelphia School District’s facilities master plan, an effort, aimed in part, at addressing its ongoing budget crisis.
Most students headed to nearby Martin Luther King High School in West Oak Lane, but others chose to enroll at Roxborough High School.
To ensure a smooth transition, Roxborough Principal Dana Jenkins created a student ambassador program. Students, mostly juniors and seniors, were selected to serve as guides for new students with the aim of making them feel like part of the “Roxborough family.”
What Happened Next: More than three months into the school year, Jenkins said the effort has paid off. As far as she’s concerned, the students from Germantown and Roxborough are united.
“That has been seamless,” said Jenkins of the transition. “I think we couldn’t have gotten any better results. They are truly Roxborough students.”
Jenkins, noting that many Germantown students are involved in extracurricular activities. Senior Kayla Hadley, one of the ambassadors, agreed: the two student bodies have completely blended.
“You can’t really tell who’s from Germantown anymore,” said Hadley.
After the Christmas break, Jenkins said ambassadors will start pushing their classmates to learn the school’s new mission statement, which states that the school will “empower students to contribute to our global society.”
Students who can recite the one-sentence statement will earn a small prize. Jenkins said large photos of the student ambassadors are also scheduled to appear in the school’s hallways. (Aaron Moselle)
Wissahickon civic delays vote on proposal to convert vacant factory site into Main Street apartments, Oct. 3
The Story: Despite city and community approval, work has yet to begin on a Manayunk landmark.
Earlier this year, the ZBA approved plans for development at the former Wilde Yarns site on Main Street.The project will transform the three buildings of the dormant Wilde Yarns Factory into approximately 43 studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments, with a fourth structure to be constructed to serve as a link between the buildings.
The plans for the site had been the topic of several prior meetings at the Wissahickon Neighbors Association: After extended conversations about parking at the site, developers devised a plan that would satisfy WNCA standards for a 1:1 parking space per unit ratio. The project also received approval from the Manayunk Neighborhood Council.
What Happened Next: Developers went before the zoning board in March and received approval for the site. However, no visible work has occurred on the project. A call to developer Scott Janzen went unreturned.
Manayunk Neighborhood Council President Kevin Smith said that no updates have been provided to his organization. (MG)
Police, DHS called in after 4-year-old brings eight bags of crack cocaine to East Falls elementary school, Oct. 8
The Story: In October, a young student at an East Falls elementary school was hospitalized after bringing drugs and cash into a classroom.
District officials told reporters that a 4-year-old student in the Thomas Mifflin School’s Pre-K program brought a controlled substance suspected to be eight Ziploc baggies containing crack cocaine and approximately $200 in cash to the school in his pockets.
District spokesman Fernando Gallard said that the student, who was not further identified, showed the contents of his pockets to another student, who relayed the information to a teacher.
Gallard said that school personnel then notified both Philadelphia Police and the Department of Human Services. The 4-year-old was taken to an area hospital for supervision as a precautionary measure.
What Happened Next: Reached in December, Alicia Taylor, spokesperson for DHS, said that confidentiality laws prohibit the release of any client information.
“In fact, I cannot confirm or deny that we are involved with this child or any other child or family,” she said.
Police spokesperson Jillian Russell confirmed that no arrests were made in connection to the incident. (MG)
Northwest Philly woman’s domestic-violence advocacy group honors slain daughter and children left behind, Oct. 10
The story: After losing her 27-year-old daughter Rosalyn “Rose” Daniels to a domestic-violence murder in 2012, Rafeequh Sanders launched a domestic-violence advocacy program, “Rose’s Journey.”
The group aims to support survivors themselves and in particular children of people who have experience domestic violence, such as her own grandchildren.
In the fall of 2013, Rose’s Journey held its first annual fundraising gala, attempting to raise enough funds to secure a space for a children’s support group starting in January 2014.
What Happened Next: Sanders was pleased with the turnout, which brought together local politicians and interest groups in October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“I had over 200 people come,” said Sanders, including speakers State Representatives Stephen Kinsey and Adam Harris.
Even though State Representative Kinsey pledged money and help finding a location, “We are still looking for a space because our funds are so limited,” said Sanders. “We would like someone to donate space until we get funding.”
“God willing we will be able to start at the beginning of the year. Maybe not January but February. We have children and parents already signed up,” said Sanders.
In the meantime, Rose’s Journey conducted a toy and coat drive and gave away 80 donated coats and copies of “The Wimpy Kid” DVDs at Finley Recreation Center on Dec. 14. (LB)
L&I cleans up Germantown spite-blight property for the 11th time, Oct. 29
The Story: In October, workers from the Department of Licenses & Inspections cleaned and sealed up the late-19th century house at 5357 Knox in Germantown. It was the eleventh time the city had performed such work on the house, which has become a sore spot for the neighbors of the Penn-Knox section.
There have been more than 20 court hearings since 2008 involving the property and its owner, Anthony Byrne, who no longer lives at the historically certified house. In the most recent legal proceeding, spearheaded by the Philadelphia Historical Commission, a municipal court judge last summer fined the owner more than $36,000 for building code violations stemming from a wide variety of property maintenance issues.
While she appreciates the responsiveness of L&I and the Historical Commission’s court battle, Byrne’s next-door neighbor, Julie Baranauskas said something more needs to be done.
“I’m as much a supporter of individual property law as anybody else. But at some point, if somebody else’s effect is to pull down a neighborhood, I mean, who wouldn’t say this could be better?”
What Happened Next: The house at 5357 Knox St. remains a blight on the community. Neighbors have seen signs of a squatter taking up residence in the building.
The house appears to be filled again with debris, and neighbors have written to L&I requesting another clean-out of the building. (Alan Jaffe)
Cook-Wissahickon parents, students protest looming ‘leveling’ changes, Oct. 25
The Story: Each school year, “leveling” adds and subtracts teachers from buildings based on actual enrollment figures and agreed-upon student-ratios. The Philadelphia School District’s ongoing budget crisis, however, made this year’s process a bit unique.
At several schools, such as Cook-Wissahickon Elementary, split-level classes were formed after the annual shuffle. The Roxborough school lost two fifth-grade teachers, creating the need for a third and fourth graders to be combined in one classroom.
The school community protested the move during an morning protest outside of the school. District spokesperson Fernando Gallard said at the time that there simply wasn’t enough funding ” to be able to resource the school as we would like.”
What Happened Next: Following the decision, district officials met with parents on two separate occasions to explain the move and listen to concerns.
Principal Karen Thomas said no new news has surfaced since and that Cook-Wissahickon is still one of about 20 split-grade classrooms in the district.
“At this point, we have no resolution that I’m aware of,” said Thomas.
District spokesperson Raven Hill said there still is not enough funding to add a teacher to Cook-Wissahickon.
As for the split-grade classroom, which has 32 students, Thomas said it’s not ideal, but that “great instruction is going on.” (AMo)
Deplorable conditions, cat hoarding discovered in former home of Grace Kelly, Oct. 31
The Story: One year after a historical marker was installed to recognize the importance of the home, investigators arrived at the so-called Kelly House on Henry Ave. and found 14 living cats and one deceased feline when they arrived
“Fleas, feces everywhere inside,” said investigators of the scene inside a home owned by an 82-year old resident since 1973. They were tipped off based on complaints to its cruelty hotline; apparently, the PSPCA had fielded complaints for many years about concerns about cat hoarding inside, but investigators were never allowed inside the property.
At the time, police spokesperson said that the home owner, Marjorie Bamont, was “involuntarily committed” for a psychiatric evaluation.
What Happened Next: Sarah Eremus, spokesperson for the PSPCA, said that 12 summary charges have been filed by the PSPCA against Bamont, who still resides at the house. She added that the 14 cats and one dog taken from the home have not been surrendered to her organization.
Bamont’s trial was held Dec. 18. She was found guilty for the mistreatment of one dog and 15 cats, one of which was found dead in her Henry Avenue home. (MG)
Queen Lane Apartments decision still feeling government-shutdown aftereffects, Nov. 5
The Story: It’s been more than two years since the Philadelphia Housing Authority first announced its plans to demolish the Germantown high-rise and replace it with a low-density development.
A mandatory federal process tied to preserving a Colonial-era burial beneath the site has delayed construction. So too did October’s government shutdown.
What Happened Next: The project’s Section 106 agreement, the mandatory federal process, is close to completion. A programmatic agreement, a legal document that maps out what actions will be taken going forward if any historic resources are found, is the last major component.
The final version of the programmatic agreement will be shaped from comments collected from residents and various organizations connected to the project. It will then be sent out to the document’s signatories. Niki Edwards, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, told NewsWorks the agency expects the programmatic agreement to be “finalized and signed” by the end of December.
Once the Section 106 Agreement is completed, PHA may move forward with demolition and construction. PHA’s Executive Director Kelvin Jeremiah has said the agency is also considering leaving the tower up given the amount of time and money it would still take to finish the new development. (AMo)
Trash battle at heart of Main Street restaurant-opening delay, Nov. 12
The Story: Formerly a Pottery Barn, a local restaurateur is looking to transform a vacant space in Manayunk into a news dining concept.
Known as Harvest, it’s part of a growing local chain of specialty restaurants managed by Dave Magrogan, familiar to many ‘Yunkers as the proprietor of Kildare’s Irish Pub. The 9,000 square-foot space would be converted into a working restaurant capable of seating just more than 200 people on two floors.
The restaurant would be located on the 4200 block of Main St. at the site of a Pottery Barn which closed earlier this year.
At a Manayunk Neighborhood Council meeting in March, Magrogan presented his plans for the restaurant and was given the go-ahead from the community. In recent months, however, MNC leaders claimed that the original community agreement stipulated that Harvest would store restaurant waste indoors.
Manayunk-based attorney William O’Brien said that Magrogan, his client, determined that the building could not accommodate that. O’Brien said that Magrogan was willing to provide dumpsters outside that would be hidden from view by solid, not chain-link, enclosures behind the restaurant. MNC leaders couldn’t abide by this, and withdrew their support for the project.
What Happened Next: O’Brien told NewsWorks that the project was approved in November by the Zoning Board of Adjustment after what he termed a “thorough” hearing that lasted approximately an hour and a half.
Magrogan wasn’t immediately available for comment on Thursday, but a staffer confirmed that work had not started on the restaurant. Other than passing along the permits from the city, O’Brien hasn’t been in touch with his client since the hearing. (MG)
Muralists use Germantown daycare’s metal grates as beautification canvas, Nov. 12
The Story: Kala Hagopian and Ali Williams, equal parts of Chroma Dolls LLC, were out in Germantown hand-painting all five of Acclaim Academy daycare center’s roll-down gates with hopes of bringing some beauty to the heart of the neighborhood’s commercial district.
The duo, which specializes in large outdoor murals, was commissioned by Acclaim’s owner Joe Martin who grew weary of the “war-time effect” created by the block’s string of metal gates.
“Imagine if we could get the whole block to look like that,” said Martin, who is also interim chairman of the Germantown Special Services District. “It would just totally give Germantown a different perspective. It would almost put us in an art district.”
What Happened Next: Though the Chroma Dolls initially thought they’d finish up in November, the schedule has been pushed back.
“We’re actually going to finish the last gate in the spring,” Williams told NewsWorks recently, noting that cold weather makes it difficult for paint to adhere properly.
“We have all of the gates completed except the center one,” she continued. “Once we finish that last one in the spring, that’ll set up some other projects that we’re talking to business owners about in Germantown.” (Brian Hickey)