Wissahickon neighbors say no to parking variance at Ridge and Lauriston

 Developer Vaughan Buckley presented his building proposal to Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association. (Matthew Grady for NewsWorks)

Developer Vaughan Buckley presented his building proposal to Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association. (Matthew Grady for NewsWorks)

Wissahickon residents turned down a proposal Monday night that would alter the way residents negotiate a neighborhood side street.

At a meeting of the Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association (WNCA), developer Vaughan Buckley presented details of a project he will be undertaking at the intersection of Ridge Ave. and Lauriston St. Last month, Buckley came into possession of the plot of land at the intersection of the two streets – a site familiar to many community members due to its dilapidated condition.

He plans to install four 2000 sq. ft. homes on the property, each with three-bedrooms, three bathrooms, and roof decks. Buckley plans to sell the houses in the upper $300,000 range. Each would have a garage with space for one car per unit, short of WNCA’s two car per home standard for approving variances.

Buckley was present before the WNCA on Monday to secure their approval for a plan to provide front-loaded access to the home’s garages from Lauriston St., allowing each residence to have a back yard. Parking would not be directly affected by this plan as no street parking is available on that side of the street.

Tthe developer could flip garage access to the rear of the lots, eliminating the yards and requiring a lengthy curb cut along Ridge Ave.  However, Buckley felt this was the less desirable of the two choices, given the impact on traffic safety from exiting vehicles and result in the loss of several on-street parking spaces along Ridge Ave.

Developer no stranger to neighbors’ anger

Buckley is familiar some Roxborough residents: In the spring, a home he is building on the 4200 block of Houghton St. triggered some tense interactions with residents who were displeased about the effects the house would have on access to the rear of their properties.

As reported by NewsWorks, one resident was sufficiently dissatisfied that he knocked down a $3,200 fence on the property with a sledgehammer.

In April, a meeting of the typically sedate Central Roxborough Civic Association became heated when residents voiced their concerns to Buckley, who offered address their concers by installing a convex security mirror.

The residents of Rector St. were apparently unsatisfied with this gesture, fearing that oversized emergency and delivery vehicles would lose access to the rear of their yards. Nevertheless, work on the property progressed as it was by right.

Residents still have concerns

Residents had a variety of concerns with the proposal to have the garages along Lauriston St., mostly related to parking. Some felt that one-space per unit was not enough, and that adjoining streets would end up absorbing the overflow of vehicles. In response, Buckley estimated that of the dozen homes he has built in Manayunk and Roxborough, 90-percent were single vehicle families.

Current residents of Lauriston St. expressed anxiety over traffic safety, as front-loaded parking on the proposed houses would cross the sidewalk, endangering pedestrians. In addition, vehicles exiting the homes could strike parked vehicles on the opposite side of Lauriston St.

In response, Buckley said that the properties had “fantastic vision” due to the dimensions of the driveway, sidewalk, and street and that there would be ample room for turns.

Residents were also anxious that the properties could become rentals for the college-age crowd. Buckley replied that the envisioned price point of the houses would prohibit rentals.

Lastly, residents were worried that the high cost of the homes would diminish their own property values, altering the perception of the neighborhood to would-be buyers.

Variance vote sends message

Addressing his membership, WNCA President Andrew Bantly referenced his organization’s two-car per house standard for granting variances, stating that he made a request to Buckley for “less density” in the form of fewer residences at the site.

Bantly recalled a similar situation regarding a development on Manor St. where cars appeared to have sufficient space to enter and exit the driveways. “I’m concerned that they’re not going to do anything until cars start to get hit, and then they will take them away,” he said.

In a vote of 9 to 6, neighbors declined to approve Buckley’s variance. Bantly said he would note the opposition to the ZBA, but the final decision is in the hands of city officials.

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