As rental properties become more of the norm, one area civic association attempts to dig in its heels and preserve as many single-family homes as possible.
The Wissahickon Interested Citizens Association will try to convince the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment July 18 that 102 Rochelle Ave. should remain a single-family home and reject the continued influx of transient renters.
"Rochelle Avenue has incredible potential... and it can't be lost. There are people moving in here with kids and families," WICA Vice President Chip Roller said. "Our goal is to make it a single-family home, and make it a nice block."
However, property owners from the estate of Edwin Lasota already earned approval from the Department of Licenses and Inspections—WICA needs the ZBA to overturn its decision.
Where Wissahickon Stands
The story for 102 Rochelle Ave., a stately Victorian, is similar to other cases throughout Roxborough, Manayunk and Wissahickon. A long-time property owner who lived on-site dies, and his or her heirs attempt to sell or rent out the property.
In 2011, with the help of a pro bono lawyer recruited by , WICA successfully appealed to keep 226 Sumac St., another Victorian, a single-family home instead of a duplex.
"We were able to keep it that way, and a woman bought it like we wanted—a fixer-upper with an amazing wrap-around porch. Someday, she'll have a palace," Roller said.
On Rochelle, Lasota's estate received a rental license from L & I for a three-family dwelling.
Whether L & I made the correct decision is what's to be determined.
Councilman Appeals to L & I
This case isn't as cut-and-dry as the Sumac home. According to the Office of Councilman Jones, the Rochelle property received a variance in 1948 to become a three-family dwelling, which it maintained by applying for a housing license from 1992 to 2006.
Because there was a recent six-year-lapse, Jones and the civic argued that L & I could reject the use. In a March 8 letter to then-Commissioner Frances Burns, Jones said the property was up for sale in a way detrimental to the neighborhood.
"It is now being marketed as a three-family dwelling with the hopes of attracting college kids similar to other properties in the neighborhood. In order to attract buyers, the real estate firm is marketing it as a 'cash cow,'" he said.
Deputy L & I Commissioner Michael Fink responded to Jones March 19, saying that the lapse in paying a fee didn't justify revoking a variance. Additionally, he said the property owner paid all back fees after becoming aware of the lapse in payment.
What Fink did allow, though, was the civic a chance to officially contest the decision, which sets the stage for the hearing July 18.
Ultimately, as Jones wrote to Burns, this issue is indicative of the neighborhood's plight.
"Stable neighborhoods like Wissahickon are being decimated by these multiple-family, party homes. My office is making a concerted effort to explore other reasonable solutions to alleviate this problem," he said.
The Neighbors' Take
At 102 Rochelle Ave. Thursday, a construction crew worked on renovating the property. No owners were available to talk, one worker said.
Hal Rosner lives on Rochelle Avenue and can point out the derelict homes from the stable, owner-occupied ones.
"There's like eight units, and, well, it's pretty easy to tell what's wrong," he said, indicating one home with overgrown grass and inattention to property maintenance.
He said he supports WICA's "aggressive" attitude and said absentee landlords are a real problem here. At one meeting, he said, he heard a developer describe rental homes as "virtual ATMS" for property owners, like Jones' "cash cow" reference.
Carl Gramlich was walking his dog on the hot summer day. When he heard the Lasota property may become rentals, he was surprised.
"It's upsetting. Putting college kids in a house like that would be shame," he said, adding he worked for Temple University, so he understood the problem of student housing.
A 20-year resident on Kalos Street, Gramlich said, "I've witness the change for some of these houses. It's sad."
Roller's perspective is to vigorously pursue prospective rental properties to the best of WICA's abilities.
"We have resolved to reverse the rentals, if at all possible. We'll oppose any attempt to downgrade our neighborhood any more," he said.
The July 18 hearing begins at 2 p.m.