Northeast Times

Port Richmond rallies for senior housing at Nativity

State Rep. John Taylor (R-177th dist.) ad­dresses a crowd of 125-plus people who gathered Sat­urday to sup­port seni­or hous­ing in Port Rich­mond. STAR PHOTO / SAM NE­W­HOUSE

After weeks of com­mit­ted com­munity act­iv­ism, Port Rich­mond neigh­bors in sup­port of seni­or hous­ing at the va­cant Nativ­ity B.V.M. School gathered in Camp­bell Square Sat­urday to make their voices heard. Elec­ted of­fi­cials at the rally, though, said there’s a long road ahead if, in fact, the pro­ject ever ac­tu­ally hap­pens.

More than 125 neigh­bors as­sembled in Port Rich­mond’s Camp­bell Square Sat­urday af­ter­noon to show their sup­port for the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia’s pro­pos­al to turn the va­cant Nativ­ity B.V.M. School in­to a 63-unit res­id­ence for re­stric­ted-in­come seni­or cit­izens.

Read Star’s ori­gin­al re­port on the Nativ­ity B.V.M. situ­ation.

State Rep. John Taylor (R-177th dist.), City Coun­cil­man Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.) and City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on (D-6th dist.) all spoke in sup­port of seni­or hous­ing in Port Rich­mond at the rally, which was led by Port Rich­mond on Patrol and Civic pres­id­ent Ken Paul.

“Why can’t we have our seni­or cen­ter?” Paul asked. “This is something we’re go­ing to fight for.”

The pro­pos­al to con­vert the former school, at Bel­grade and East Madis­on streets, in­to a seni­or cen­ter was con­ceived by the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia’s Cath­ol­ic Health Care Ser­vices in 2009.

It re­ceived strong com­munity sup­port, and CHCS was awar­ded $11 mil­lion by the fed­er­al De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment for the pro­ject, which has an es­tim­ated budget of $11.5 mil­lion.

Since, the needed vari­ances for the propsal have been re­jec­ted by the state’s Com­mon­wealth Court, after one neigh­bor filed an ap­peal of the state’s Court of Com­mon Pleas’ de­cision to grant the pro­ject the vari­ances. CHCS ap­pealed the Com­mon­wealth Court’s de­cision to the Pennsylvania Su­preme Court on Dec. 27.

“Your op­tim­ism is very much needed and in­spir­ing. Please re­main vo­cal,” said Kimiko Do­herty of CHCS to neigh­bors.

The rally was pub­li­cized on Face­book by Beth and Brid­get Cole, who cre­ated the page “Port Rich­mond (Past and Present) for the Trans­form­a­tion of Nativ­ity,” which has more than 800 mem­bers.

Read how Port Rich­mond stepped up to sup­port the pro­posed pro­ject.

The two said that Nativ­ity B.V.M. was the ideal place for a seni­or cen­ter.

“When our grand­moth­er was alive, she had a stroke, but she wanted to stay here, in the neigh­bor­hood,” Brid­get Cole said.

Their grand­moth­er stayed in the fam­ily home in Port Rich­mond, but “she would have loved to be in­de­pend­ent,” Cole con­tin­ued.

Dur­ing the rally, an ad­di­tion­al 34 people signed a pe­ti­tion to the Su­preme Court to hear the case, which pre­vi­ously had 844 sig­na­tures.

Des­pite the op­tim­ism and hope of at­tendees at the rally, however, elec­ted of­fi­cials that day said that leg­al is­sues sur­round­ing the pro­pos­al make the Nativ­ity B.V.M. seni­or hous­ing pro­ject un­likely.

“This rally is great for the com­munity. It’s a good cause,” Squilla said. “The ac­tu­al­ity – it’s a long shot. We have to look at al­tern­at­ives.”

Paul and Taylor echoed this sen­ti­ment, with Paul men­tion­ing that the same seni­or hous­ing pro­ject may need to find an­oth­er neigh­bor­hood build­ing as its loc­a­tion.

“I think it’s go­ing to hap­pen, but it’s not go­ing to hap­pen through the Su­preme Court,” Taylor said. “Maybe our ex­uber­ance over­shad­owed some is­sues … There’s some flaws in that ap­plic­a­tion [for zon­ing vari­ances].”

The Su­preme Court only hears cases in­volving pre­vi­ously un­heard ques­tions of state law, and it might de­cline to even hear the ap­peal.

“Even if we won at the Su­preme Court, we would just have to start this whole pro­cess all over again,” Taylor said.

“The really crit­ic­al is­sue is to main­tain the build­ing,” he poin­ted out.

The va­cant build­ing is show­ing signs of de­cay, and has been broken in­to and burg­lar­ized re­peatedly, ac­cord­ing to re­cords of the 24th Po­lice Dis­trict.

Dor­is Calder­wood, who at­ten­ded Nativ­ity B.V.M. School in the 1970s, came to the rally be­cause she strongly sup­ports the seni­or hous­ing pro­pos­al.

“Old neigh­bors are find­ing it harder to hang onto their houses,” Calder­wood said.

“Some­body stopped [the pro­ject] and took it in­to a court claim­ing that it’s caus­ing prob­lems for the neigh­bor­hood. The only thing it’s caus­ing is for prop­erty val­ues to go down be­cause it’s sit­ting here, va­cant,” she said.

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­house@bsmphilly.com.

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

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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