Although official word to delay demolishing a historical Victorian house did not happen Tuesday, two local officials remain optimistic about the future for 5901 Ridge Ave.
Giovannone Construction, Inc. owns the Bunting House and had secured city approval to demolish the property. However, neighborhood backlash led to a meeting Monday night with the company and members from the Central Roxborough Civic Association, Councilman Curtis Jones' office, Roxborough Development Corporation and the Manayunk Neighborhood Council.
RDC Executive Director Bernard Guet and Joshua Cohen, special aide to Councilman Jones, were hopeful that developers would announce a 30-day demolition delay. However, Frank Keel, spokesperson for the Giovannone Construction, Inc., said Tuesday evening no official plans were reached.
"(The company) is currently looking at all options proposed at the meetings. Negotiations with the ownership entity investors regarding the request for a 30-day extension on the property at 5901 Ridge are ongoing," Keel said in an email.
Earlier this year, the Giovannones acquired the large Victorian home, which was believed to have been built in the 1880s and owned by Dr. Ross Bunting (of the Roxborough Home for Indigent Women).
Former tenants at the Bunting House say they were (legally) evicted and told renovations would occur. However, the Department of License and Inspections approved a demolition permit earlier in September to create a vacant lot. Legally, the Giovannones could demolish it anytime after Thursday.
Since learning of the property's fate late last week, neighbors began contacting lawmakers, neighborhood groups and the developers. Online, they created a petition (which now has more than 690 signatures) and vocalized outrage through forums and news articles. Some residents sought legal advice.
Cohen began talks with the developers, who he said lack the finances to renovate the building. Although the building's exterior looks great, inside it's a different story. On Tuesday, Guet gave a similar report.
"They need to justify the expenses. Outside is good, but a lot of work has to be done inside," he said. "There are legitimate financial contraints—they have to pay for the mortgage and taxes, so it's expensive."
At the Monday meeting, Cohen and Guet said Anthony and Frank Giovannone tentatively agreed to hold off demolition for 30 days, but could not confirm until other stakeholders backed the plan.
The Monday meeting may not have immediately achieved a delay, but it brought everyone to the table.
"We bought some time, and we are hopeful that this is on the way to stop them from demolishing the property," Cohen said before the Tuesday evening announcement.
Guet said said the RDC would aid in the search for suitable tenants at 5901 Ridge Ave.
"We are looking for finding tenants for them. Some people are interested. We are following up on this, but, as I told them, I can't do it in a week or even a month. So we need some time," he said.
The Erb Law Firm formerly leased the space. Guet said something like an architectural firm or doctor's office might make sense—or a commercial property downstairs with rental units upstairs.
Additionally, Guet disagreed with assertions the property owners lack concern for the neighborhood.
"They have done a lot of good things in the area. They were born in Roxborough, live in Roxborough, their father went to Roxborough High School. They care about the neighborhood," he said.
Outside of the negotiations, other residents have considered appealing the original L & I permit and obtaining a court-order injunction.