After more than two-month layover, a Roxborough developer can begin demolition at 5901 Ridge Ave.
In a ruling Tuesday, Motions Court Judge Idee Fox denied neighborhood civic associations' request to halt demolition at the Bunting House, an historical (but not registered) Victorian home, allowing Giovannone Construction to create a vacant lot at the corner of Ridge and Roxborough Avenues.
The Central Roxborough Civic Association led a charge by neighborhood groups to preserve the home formerly owned by Dr. Ross Hunting, a noted physician in the early 20th century, who is buried across the street at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.
In September, property owners Anthony and Frank Giovannone secured permits to demolish the Bunting House, along with 5905, 5907 and 5909 Ridge Ave., The Roxborough-based company, Giovannone Construction slowly acquired the four corner lots, in addition to 510 Roxborough Ave., for over $1 million and attempted to market the area to commercial developers. Frank later testified in court that corporate clients were not interested in developing the existing land, as is, so clearing the property made the most sense.
When neighbors learned that home was destined for the wrecking ball, they began an online petition to preserve the home and filed appeals with the Court of Common Pleas, the Department of Licenses and Inspections, and the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The Giovannones agreed to a 30-day period to allow the Roxborough Development Corporation and Councilman Curtis Jones' office a chance to devise alternate strategies. That period extended into November.
Frank Giovannone testified in court Dec. 10 that bigger restaurant and bank chains were not interested in the property—neither was nearby Roxborough Memorial Hospital.
After the Giovannones restated their intention to demolish the homes Nov. 30, the neighbors reinstated their appeals. On Dec. 4 the neighbors requested a Commerce Court judge grant an injunction until the city could review their appeal. That case was referred to Motions Court, where Judge Fox heard testimony Dec. 10.
Hal Schirmer, attorney for the neighbors, asserted the city erred in issuing demolition permits as "vacant lot" is not an official use. He argued that demolition should be put off until either the L&I Review Board and/or the ZBA could rule on it.
The city asserted, through its attorney Andrew Ross, that "vacant lot" is the absence of a zoning use, and that city employees correctly granted the Giovannones permits.
Carl Primerva, the property owners' lawyer, said that revoking the permits infringed on the Giovannones' constitutional property rights, and that every day the Bunting House stands, it exists as a liability for crime, homeless and fires. Primerva requested a $100,000 be posted by the civic associations if an injunction was granted.
During the hearing Monday, Fox questioned the Giovannones on how much they exhausted their commercial options. Additionally, she asked if they felt the home significant, which they said it wasn't.
She said that even if she did rule for the civic association, she most likely would required a bond—which CRCA President Ed Hotham previously said would be nearly impossible to post.
Joshua Cohen, special adviser for Councilman Jones, has discussed the Bunting Home at many civic association meetings over the past two weeks. Although he said it looked grim to preserve the home, there was a silver lining.
"One good thing to come out of this is how much neighbors rallied around this. I think enough people woke about and now there's a push to preserve some of these great architectural homes in Roxborough," he said.
Cohen had previously said he expected the Giovannones to quickly demolish the homes.
The civic associations' appeals to the city still stand. Schirmer and Hotham didn't immediately return requests for comment, as to if the neighbors would drop them.