Opposition seems to be mounting against a proposal to convert a six-story Holme Avenue convent into 44 apartments for veterans and other low-income individuals.
Last week, the presidents of the Holme Circle, Rhawn Gardens, Winchester Park and Ashton Square civic associations met with Nancy Cherone, the interim CEO of Nazareth Hospital.
“It was a cordial meeting. Nothing definite came out of it,” said Elsie Stevens, the new president of Holme Circle Civic Association.
Earlier discussions of the matter took place last month at the Holme Circle Civic Association meeting and the district office of state Rep. Kevin Boyle.
The 45,399-square-foot convent is located at 2723 Holme Ave. It is adjacent to, but separate from, the hospital. Nazareth Hospital has not taken a public stance on the proposal.
The Illinois-based Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth of the USA own the convent. An estimated 20 local Sisters who have lived there will move to another, smaller convent on the same grounds.
The planned conversion does not need zoning approval. Columbus Property Management & Development Inc., aka 1260 Housing Development Corporation, is seeking state funding for the $11 million-plus project.
The complex will be called The Stella, in memory of Sister Stella, the Mother Superior of a group of 11 nuns who offered their lives in sacrifice in 1943 in present-day Belarus. The nuns were killed by a firing squad. In exchange, the Gestapo agreed not to execute 120 Jewish people who were arrested and slated for death.
Opponents of the proposal worry about crime, pointing to incidents at other sites operated by Columbus Property Management.
In addition, they question some of the wording in CPM’s Nov. 2 application to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. The application claims the proposal is “well-accepted by the community,” but lists people from outside the area, including West Philadelphia- based City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, as supporters.
Also, there is the issue of parking near a hospital that already does not have enough space for staff and visitors.
And, they worry that CPM has Section 8 sites and could offer vouchers at the convent property.
Each one-bedroom apartment can house up to two people. CPM promised at the Nov. 28 Holme Circle Civic Association meeting that all 44 units would be occupied by veterans, but its paperwork indicates that “other low-income individuals” could move into one of the apartments.
“Now there’s a discrepancy,” said Stevens, the Holme Circle civic leader.
CPM has said it will “target” veterans.
“You can have a target, but you can miss your target,” Stevens said. “We want it in writing.”
Opponents would feel more comfortable with senior citizens living in the property rather than having a designation of “general occupancy.” They are calling for a 99-year, legally binding agreement for a housing designation of “seniors only,” whether they be veterans or not.
Ideally, though, they’d rather have Nazareth Hospital or another medical facility use the space.
Local elected officials, along with the neighboring Mayfair and Holmesburg civic associations, seem to side with the community, though the picture won’t be clearer until Holme Circle Civic Association meets again in January.
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency is not expected to make a decision on funding until March. ••