Plans for Sumac St. home conversion remain at a standstill

Drawing not so much a line in the sand as erecting a concrete barrier, members of the Wissahickon Interested Citizens Association (WICA) have refused to compromise with developers seeking to convert an existing single family home into a duplex.

As reported last month by Newsworks, the owner of a property on the 200 block of Sumac Street in Wissahickon applied for a conversion variance with the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA).

Despite the remonstrance of WICA, the Philadelphia Planning Commission, and 4th District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., the ZBA approved the variance for the Sumac Street residence.

WICA retained the services of a pro-bono attorney to submit an appeal to the ZBA decision before the Jan. 16 deadline.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Neighbors unify in opposition 

Present for the meeting was Gary Jonas, the developer tasked with converting the Sumac Street property.

At a prior WICA meeting that took place before the ZBA’s decision, Jonas expressed willingness to compromise with the civic group in regard to the conversion.

Relating his prerogatives, Jonas said, “I try to work with the community; if they want to work with me, I’ll work with them.”

Jonas asserted that he made a commitment at the time to “backing off” of his planned modifications to the Sumac Street home pending a conversation with WICA, which he claimed was not forthcoming.

Chip Roller, Vice President of WICA, was unyielding in his opposition to the Sumac Street conversion.

“There’s nothing to discuss,” Roller said in response, suggesting that any further dialogue should take place between the lawyers retained by each side.

In addition, Roller expressed a resolve to continue the appeal process to higher judicial echelons, if necessary.

Providing context for WICA’s ironclad resistance, Wissahickon resident Jose Peguero explained that residents are interested in preserving the neighborhood’s family-oriented character.

Peguero mentioned a desire to draw more families into the neighborhood, a position that conflicts with pervasive rentals, which are often marketed to college students. 

As such, he’s willing to oppose any development that doesn’t conform to the collective interests of vested residents.

“If we have an ability to influence [decisions] and to make our neighborhood into the vision that we want,” said Peguero, “then that’s what we’re going to do.”

Group opposes plan for bike race date change 

Also present at the meeting was Don Simon, Roxborough resident and leader of the Bike Race Coalition, a group organized last year to quell rowdiness stemming from the Philadelphia International Championship’s cycling race.

His presence stemmed from a recent proposal to move the event from Sunday, June 3 to Saturday, June 2.

Recalling a recent conversation with the event’s promoters, Simon said that “the latest word” will indeed keep the race on Sunday.

In accord with the decisions of adjacent civic groups, Roller said that WICA will send a letter opposing the event’s move to Saturday. 

WICA meets on the second Wednesday of each month at the Northern Home for Children on Ridge Avenue.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal