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.
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."