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Neighbors, Developer at Odds on 30-Day Demolition Delay

Giovannone Construction, Inc. and local attorney disagree about conditions for 5901 Ridge Ave. demolition reprieve.

Developers conditionally agreed to delay demolition on a historical Roxborough Victorian home if neighbors drop their legal challenge, according to a spokesperson. However, an attorney for residents—who filed an appeal Wednesday—said that aspect was not communicated with him.

Frank Keel, spokesperson for Giovannone Construction, Inc., said the company agreed to a "30-day cooling-off period" on the proposed demolition of the Bunting House at 5901 Ridge Ave. and will work with "community officials to come up with a solution that can save the building and provide for a first-class, sustainable redevelopment of the entire site."

Hal Schirmer, retained attorney for four civic associations, learned of the delay Wednesday, but, he said, without strings attached. Earlier in the day, he filed an appeal with the Department of Licenses and Inspections Review Board to challenge the company's demolition permit.

He Said, He Said

Schirmer said he did not have plans to drop the legal challenge.

"It seems that means they retain right to demolish the building at any point in the process, which isn't really a compromise. It's always troublesome when someone asks you to drop your first amendment rights and appeals to the government," Schirmer said when Patch notified him of the request.

Giovannone Construction, Inc. contends that without dropping the appeal, the negotiating process is hindered.

"If the developer's fair request isn't met, they will have to go back to their investor partners and re-evaluate their consideration of an extension. The principals of Giovannone Construction, Inc. are good, fair-minded people who want to work towards an amicable resolution. They are looking for some fairness in return. Withdrawing legal action in return for an extension is the fair thing to do," Keel said.

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Schirmer said the zoning and L & I appeals protect the neighborhood. After the developer received city permits Sept. 6, anyone can challenge them for 30 days. After Oct. 5, that window closes.  

Bernard Guet, executive director for the Roxborough Development Corporation, and Schirmer confirmed Wednesday afternoon that Giovannone Construction would push demolition "to look at possible solutions," Guet said. Initially the RDC—which is not involved in the legal challenge—knew of no conditions.

However, Keel released this statement to the media Wednesday: 

"Our investor partners have agreed to allow Giovannone Construction to thoroughly explore all viable options discussed at the Monday meeting at the Roxborough Development Corporation and the several new options that have surfaced in the last several days.  In exchange for our good faith effort to resolve this issue amicably, we ask that all legal challenges to our lawful rights and permits as developers, including any requests for injunctions, be withdrawn by any and all civic groups, community groups, elected officials, their attorneys, and private citizens."

Challenging a Permitted Demolition

Giovannone Construction, Inc., which own the property and three other lots at that corner, received approval from the Department of License and Inspections to demolish the building and create a vacant lot. Legally, the Giovannones could demolish it anytime starting Thursday. However, following phones calls, emails, public protests and online petitions, the company sat down with neighborhood groups Monday night. They tentatively agreed to delay demolition but didn't confirm until Wednesday afternoon.

The Central Roxborough Civic Association, Ridge Park Civic Association, Wissahickon Interested Neighbors Association and Manayunk Neighborhood Council retained Schirmer to represent the neighbors' interest.

On Wednesday, Schirmer filed an emergency appeal with the Department of License and Inspections Review Board to halt demolition before Thursday. After learning of the developer's decision, he said the "emergency appeal"—which would have forced a hearing immediately—would drop but a regular L & I review and zoning hearing would occur.

Referred to as the Bunting House because it was once owned by Dr. Ross Bunting (of the Roxborough Home for Indigent Women), the home is a large Victorian home at the corner of Roxborough and Ridge Avenues, and is believed to have been built in the 1880s.

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 898 signatures) and vocalized outrage through forums and news articles. Some residents sought legal advice.

Joshua Cohen, special assistant for Councilman Curtis Jones, and Guet have said the developers lack the finances to renovate the older building. Although the building's exterior looks great, inside it's a different story.

"They need to justify the expenses. Outside is good, but a lot of work has to be done inside," Guet said Tuesday. "There are legitimate financial contraints—they have to pay for the mortgage and taxes, so it's expensive."

Roxborough Area Man September 28, 2012 at 12:54 PM
The developer should sue the neighborhood group that is blocking their property rights. BTW - what, aside from blocking progress, has this community group done to preserve this house, aside form impose their will upon the developer? Have they done work to preserve the property? Have they offered to take the property off the hands of the developer, for a fair price? Of course not. They have only been obstructionist meddlers who value nostalgia over progress.
Debbie Thomas September 28, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Roxborough Man, would you rather see the neighborhood turn into a suburban type environment? Sorry but Ridge Avenue pockmarked with the likes of box structure banks, chain drug stores, and strips of retail isn't my idea of progress. Roxborough needs to keep its balance of old and new. It's the reason many of us decided to move there. Homes like the Bunting House give the area character and charm. If I wanted to be around strip shopping centers, malls and big box retailers, I would have moved to the suburbs in the first place..........or in the vicinity of Cottman Bustleton.
Michael September 28, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Hey Roxborough Man, maybe you can outline the proposed "progress" this situation creates? The progress towards empty lots? You do bring up a good point that the community group should have taken the steps to make it historic but they believed the old developer that said he wasn't going to bring it down when he was going to put condo's on the lots in the back. You see, there was "progress" that was going to happen at that site but it fell apart when the market crashed. So technically they have, in the past and now, worked with developers to protect the site. Right now they are working to find tenants or buyers. So your "obstructionist meddlers" comment is ridiculous. You should probably have a better understanding of the history prior to making ridiculous statements.
Roxborough Area Man September 28, 2012 at 08:55 PM
I would, of course, PREFER this house to remain as an example of the architecture that used to be common in the area. But I like property rights too. I do not want some special-interest group telling me what I can, and cannot do, with my property. If I did, I'd move to some Jersey suburb with Homeowners Associations. The developer, I am sure, has greater plans than a mere vacant lot - but I also am sure (and I don't know anything about this company) that if they have dealt with the Philadelphia pressure groups that call themselves neighborhood advocates, they know the game. They can't simply tear down a beautiful, if in poor shape and expensive to fix, old house - there is a required wailing and gnashing of teeth, bowing and kowtowing to the local chiefs...and eventually the property will come down, and something new will go up. The neighborhood groups don't like renters, people from outside Roxborough/Manayunk, new construction, OLD construction that the owners cannot afford to keep up...obstructionists with no solutions. I don't want Roxborough/Manayunk to become another BeigeBigBox community - but change and progress is inevitable. Buy the house and preserve it if it means so much - put your money where your mouth is.
Michael September 28, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Well property rights only go so far, right? I mean I can't put an addition 60 foot high extension on my house without approval and I sure don't think anyone would approve of me If I got a permit to knock down my house and put up a cell phone tower. I don't always agree with the "local chiefs" but that's what happens in communities. And you can have progress and preservation at the same time. It happens in a lot of cities in the North America, South America, and Europe. And heck I would have bought it if I knew it was going up at sheriffs sale at that price. I want the house to stay but what I really don't want is an empty trash lot for 5-7 years. So far their only plans are a lot. Just like the ugly lot that's behind it. I'm sure they have plans but with the market, it may take years. Or it goes to the next bidder when they don't pay their taxes.

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