Northeast Times

Community has mixed feelings about new townhouses on Front St.

The pro­posed Nitza Tufino town­houses on Front Street had mem­bers of the com­munity di­vided at a meet­ing on May 9.

The sur­round­ing area of Front and Nor­ris streets in Kens­ing­ton has seen its fair share of de­vel­op­ment over the years, for bet­ter or worse.

But is 1942 N. Front St., in the lot where a de­teri­or­at­ing former bank build­ing now stands, the right place for three three-story town houses that low-in­come fam­il­ies can call home?

Many com­munity mem­bers seem to think not.

In a de­cidedly heated zon­ing meet­ing at the Youth United for Change build­ing at 1910 N. Front St. May 9, com­munity mem­bers met with rep­res­ent­at­ives for The Wo­men’s Com­munity Re­vital­iz­a­tion Pro­ject (WCRP)—the group that seeks to de­vel­op the homes—as well as rep­res­ent­at­ives from the Nor­ris Square Civic As­so­ci­ation, the City Plan­ning Com­mis­sion and mem­bers of com­munity groups like the East Kens­ing­ton Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation.

After over an hour of ar­gu­ment over is­sues like park­ing, crime, the avail­ab­il­ity of safe out­door space and even com­plex top­ics like gentri­fic­a­tion, the as­sembly voted down the pro­posed pro­ject in a 60-to-21 vote against.

The WCRP’s mis­sion is to provide per­man­ent hous­ing to very low-in­come fam­il­ies in the city. At 1942 N. Front St., the group would de­vel­op the Nitza Tufino Town­houses, three build­ings con­tain­ing 25 apart­ments, a com­munity room and 10 park­ing spaces on Hope Street (dir­ectly be­hind where the bank build­ing now stands).

In WCRP’s de­vel­op­ment syn­op­sis for the pro­ject, it pro­poses that the homes “are a key to trans­form­ing this area in­to a mixed-in­come com­munity of choice,” and that the lot’s close prox­im­ity to the Berks el­ev­ated train sta­tion is an amen­ity of con­veni­ence.

Some who at­ten­ded the meet­ing, however, brought up many po­ten­tial prob­lems with the loc­a­tion and nature of the pro­ject.

Many said that res­id­en­tial space on the lot will not trans­form the area in a pos­it­ive way, and WCRP should con­sider not just a com­munity room on the first floor, but us­ing the en­tire first floor as com­munity or com­mer­cial space to pro­moto neigh­bor­hood safety.

“I would be a strong pro­ponent of this pro­ject were it not for the res­id­en­tial uses on the first floor,” said Henry Py­att, com­mer­cial cor­ridor man­ager for NK­CDC and mem­ber of the EKNA zon­ing com­mit­tee. “When every­body lives on the first floor, they close their blinds, they don’t see the crimes…and the crimes keep hap­pen­ing,” he con­tin­ued.

One at­tendee said, “The pro­ject is fine, but the loc­a­tion is aw­ful.”

Sev­er­al people at the meet­ing raised points about park­ing and safety.

One wo­man said that Hope Street, where WCRP pro­posed to add the town­houses’ 10 park­ing spaces, is already jammed with cars.

She went on to echo a con­cern raised by oth­ers in the meet­ing—that the area is not safe for fam­il­ies with chil­dren.

With two bars, a meth­adone clin­ic, and drug deal­ing and pros­ti­tu­tion near the site, she said, if the de­veloper had stud­ied wheth­er the area was suit­able for wo­men and chil­dren, “you would not have picked this area.”

Nora Lichtash, dir­ect­or of WCRP, said in a phone in­ter­view May 21 that WCRP chose the site be­cause the or­gan­iz­a­tion be­lieves it will be­ne­fit the com­munity by turn­ing a blighted site in­to something use­ful.  

“We chose the pro­ject site be­cause it’s close to pub­lic trans­it, and this is a trans­it-ori­ented de­vel­op­ment site,” she said.

Re­gard­ing park­ing, Lichtash said WCRP has spoken to the City Plan­ning Com­mis­sion about mov­ing the park­ing from Hope Street, but as the pro­posed town­houses will be home to many ten­ants who take pub­lic trans­port­a­tion, there won’t be an over­flow of parked cars crowding the streets.

Lichtash said that as far as us­ing the en­tire first floor for com­mer­cial space, the idea isn’t feas­ible.

“Right now, there isn’t enough of a mar­ket for com­mer­cial use,” she said, “But [the town­houses] are go­ing to help spur com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment around there.”

She went on to say that al­though the en­tire first floor can­not be used com­mer­cially, the com­munity room space can be used or ren­ted out for meet­ings, parties, vot­ing and oth­er uses that do cre­ate the “eyes on the street,” that lead to safety.

Not to men­tion, she said, that people simply liv­ing there is bet­ter than the cur­rent situ­ation.

“Right now it’s an empty build­ing with room for il­li­cit activ­ity,” she said. “What it will be is fam­il­ies go­ing in and out, and com­munity space.”

Lichtash in­sists that WCRP is fo­cused on the com­munity’s con­cerns go­ing for­ward. She said the or­gan­iz­a­tion has held com­munity meet­ings to work through is­sues and nail down spe­cif­ics of the pro­ject.

“If the ques­tion is if we’re listen­ing to the com­munity,” Lichtash said, “Then yes, we’re listen­ing.”

To learn more about WCRP, vis­it ht­tp://www.wcrp­phila.com.

Man­aging Ed­it­or Mi­kala Jam­is­on can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at mjam­is­on@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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