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Judge Denies Injunction Against Bunting House Demo

Giovannone Construction may proceed with plans to make a vacant lot at 5901-09 Ridge Ave.

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.

rich December 14, 2012 at 11:25 AM
hope they build section 8
Lyceum Physical Medicine December 14, 2012 at 12:44 PM
What a shame.
Debbie Thomas December 14, 2012 at 01:01 PM
This is just terrible. I hate the developer. So now the land will be just one large vacant lot until someone decides to build on it. Giovannone Construction sucks. I hope they have an awful Christmas. They deserve nothing but manure in their stocking. I could call them worse names but that language isn't permitted here...so just use your imagination. And Rich, you are a moron.
Jo Ann Desper December 14, 2012 at 01:05 PM
While we may have lost the battle, we can continue to fight the war. We need to educate the community about our historic value and not let this happen again. We also can show our displeasure about this decision by boycotting whatever venture Giovannone Construction puts at this location. We don't need a fast food restaurant on Ridge Avenue.
Debbie Thomas December 14, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Jo Ann, I agree. Although I wasn't born and raised in Roxborough, one of the reasons I moved there was because of the older homes in the area. I will join in and participate in any fight to stop a fast food restaurant or anything else, from being built on that site! The community needs to band together and show our displeasure with this developer.
Kevin December 14, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Rich, please explain why you think section 8 housing should be built on the site. Can you justify your reasoning or are you just being a douche?
Debbie Thomas December 14, 2012 at 03:26 PM
"i hope they build another Pecks,Dollar store,and popeye's chicken" Judging by this comment Rich put in another article regarding the Bunting House, I'm leaning towards him being the latter.
Daina December 14, 2012 at 04:56 PM
So the developer thinks Roxborough wants fast food... Communities don't "ask" for fast food establishments to be built. They eat what is around and often they have no other choice because they don't know any better, and they don't know how to come together as a community to ask for what they want. Roxborough has an educated population that is not going to put up with this. I don't eat fast food, and I'm going to especially extend that rule to any fast food establishment that is built on this site.
Debbie Thomas December 14, 2012 at 05:29 PM
It sure didn't take the dirty SOBs long. The demolition has started. :(
Michael December 14, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Thanks to all our local community "leaders" who helped with this. I guess you just good for cutting ribbons and giving out bags. This is an embarrassment that we'll all be reminded of every time we pass that beautiful empty lot.
Debbie Thomas December 14, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Michael, and don't you just love the way the politicians helped! The only time the mayor and city council care about Roxborough is when it comes to raising our property taxes.
Josh Cohen December 14, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Michael, Debbie, We did everything legally possible to stop this demolition. We convinced them to stay the demolition so they could further explore attracting suitable tenants to the building; we were supportive of a lawsuit that numerous community groups brought forward that would have stayed the demolition; we offered a possible land swap so the city would take possesion of the house and the Giavanonne brothers would have taken a city owned piece of land; we talked to L&I to make sure all of their permits were in order etc etc. I get it that you have a cynical attitude towards politicians but in this case your anger is misdirected. What else you would have liked the Councilman to do that we missed? Regards, Josh Cohen Office of Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. Regards, Josh Cohen Office of Councilman Curtis Jones Jr
Jessica December 14, 2012 at 08:44 PM
This marks a sad day for Roxborough. To lose an architectural landmark and for no good reason? I will stand up and fight against any efforts made to turn this into a fast food restaurant. I would be very sad to leave the neighborhood but if fast food moves in...I'm moving out.
Michael December 14, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Josh, I am not angry just frustrated. And my frustration is not misdirected. The property should have never been in the this situation to begin with. That house, back when the original development of Apartments was slated, should have been marked historic. It wasn't since everyone believed the original developer that he wouldn't knock it down. That was a mistake and that was missed. I was very disappointed when I spoke to councilman Jones back in September. When he answered the phone he had this annoyed "oh great, another person calling about that house" greeting. Then spoke to me like he had no time for this and passed me onto you. Sorry, that's just the way it came across to me. And I'm not just frustrated with one person. I'm frustrated will all the parties involved from the beginning. Now we'll have a giant reminder of this failure sitting at the corner of Ridge and Roxborough Ave.
Debbie Thomas December 14, 2012 at 09:05 PM
I feel the same way. If/when Roxborough starts looking like Ridge & Butler Pike, then I will be moving too.
rich December 14, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Kevin ,did you really think you would win one for the neighborhood? Debbie, there is no community anymore .Its a renters paradise and they call all the shots in manayunk and roxborough. Look at all the apartments that are going to be built in are area.
Kevin December 15, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Rich, no I didn't think that the neighborhood would win this one. Btw you still havent adressed why the property should be section 8; probably because you cant back up such a dick statement... I have actually been suggesting that a Popeyes or any fast food establishment would be a very successful development option for the property. Wether or not you agree with fast food moving onto that block of ridge, you can't deny that it will be wildly successful... section 8 housing on the other hand is a poor development choice for a property that cost the developer over $1M to obtain, Rich. Also, the new homes that they are building around lower ridge in this "renters paradise" are selling between 300-400k... Go find another bridge to hang out under troll
Kevin December 15, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Josh, they have a right to be angry at their elected officials when their officials fail them. Voicing frustration an anger at elected officials is an american tradition. I'm not saying you didn't do everything that you could legally do to help, but don't suggest that their anger is somehow misdirected; If you can't take the heat then you might want to consider another career path
Debbie Thomas December 15, 2012 at 03:48 PM
I completely agree with Michael and Kevin. The residents have a right to be angry over what happened. This scumbag developer continuously lied to the residents as well as the community groups trying to save the Bunting House. There were even offers to buy the home. But Giavannone Construction wanted an ugly, vacant lot to be there and now it is. I really do wish them all of the bad luck in the world with every project the do from this point forward.
Keith December 15, 2012 at 06:49 PM
It seems like Giovannone Construction wants to leave lower Roxborough the same way Barbera left upper roxborough "full of empty parking lots". May I suggest boycotting ALL of Giovannone Construction projects in the area till they learn some respect for the neighborhood and its people. Maybe the higher cost of doing business due to delays etc might be enlightening.
rich December 16, 2012 at 11:13 AM
Kevin, your taking this way to personal. I think were all going to see more and more of these historical homes demolished for 300- 400k homes that you seem to think is great for the neighborhood . I feel that our neighborhood is already over developed .I signed the petition to stop the demolition of this building and many other petitions over the years. Fighting development can be exhausting and stressful . I'm glad my company is relocating and we are moving far from Pennsylvania. Good luck with your battles. BTW its not called fast food, its good food fast..

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