Wissahickon civic supports residents in fight against excessive rentals

On Wednesday night, members of the Wissahickon Interested Citizens Association listened to the tales of two houses and agreed to continue with appeals to the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA).

Residents of the 100 block of Rochelle Avenue spoke about a proposed conversion of a single-family residence into a three-family dwelling.

Residents of the 200 block of Sumac Street discussed the ongoing conversion of a single-family home into a duplex and their plans to file an appeal to a variance previously approved by the ZBA.

In addition, WICA remained resolute in its opposition to the continued exploitation of their neighborhood through excessive – and often illegal – rentals.

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Moratorium on new rentals?

Tom Cronin, of the 100 Block of Rochelle Ave. in Wissahickon, presented a concern familiar to many who have experienced the passing of elderly neighbors – what becomes of the property.

Cronin, a Rochelle Ave. resident since 1960 and frequent participant in civic associations, reported that his neighbor of over 30 years died in December.

In subsequent conversation with the neighbor’s next-of-kin, it came to light that the family had intentions to sell the deceased’s home as a three-family dwelling.

And, while Cronin noted that “there’s a little bit of anxiety when you’re thinking about getting new neighbors,” what disturbed him more was the possibility of the home turning into a problematic rental not unlike those already over-represented in both Manayunk and Wissahickon.

According to Cronin, the home had been used previously as a multi-family home – one small apartment was leased to an individual renter – but as it had not been used in this capacity for over three years, the “multi-family” zoning variance granted to the home is no longer valid.

While zoning variances are transferable to successive owners, ZBA policy states that if the use the variance was granted for is “abandoned” for three or more years, the property classification reverts back to its original designation.

Cronin said he asked the family to present their plans to WICA in order to create a more formal dialogue and forestall the ongoing transition of his block from owners to renters.

He notes that the two homes opposite him are now multi-family dwellings, and that the volume of cars parked on the street has swelled to the point where he has had to rent space from a neighbor in order to secure a parking spot for him and his wife.

“All these things are exacerbating a terrible situation,” he said, and suggested that tactics borrowed from “Occupy Philadelphia” may be in order.

In response to this, Morgan Cephas, Deputy Chief of Staff for 4th District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., reinforced earlier statements made by Councilman Jones and his staff in regard to seeking a moratorium on new rentals in sections of the 4th District.

Cephas said that while a rental moratorium remains a viable proposition, staff lawyers are currently looking into this option to see if it is workable in a legal capacity.

Rental conversion request on Sumac 

An additional installment in the story of Wissahickon rental conversions is a property on the 200 block of Sumac Street.

The owner of the home sought approval from the ZBA last year to convert her home from a single family-dwelling into a duplex.

Despite the duly-registered protestations of neighbors and WICA, the ZBA granted a multi-use variance for the home, which WICA expects to appeal within the allotted time of 30-days.

Present for the conversation was Matt Wysong of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission.

Asked for strategies to combat the future disavowal of WICA’s recommendations by the ZBA, Wysong recommended an emphasis on demonstrable evidence.

“Saying that ‘conversions bring down a neighborhood’ is an opinion (in the eyes of the ZBA),” said Wysong, no matter how well-intentioned – or informed – that opinion may be.

“In order to have any kind of legitimacy,” he said, “having cold hard facts – and policy to back it up – is the way to do it.”

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