Northeast Times

Kensington property owner: ‘you’re taking away my future’

One East Kens­ing­ton busi­ness­man is among those who own prop­erty re­cently seized by the city through through em­in­ent do­main, a leg­al yet seem­ingly con­tro­ver­sial gov­ern­ment power. Now, he’s cent­ral to a con­ver­sa­tion about city res­id­ents’ rights and the rights of the city it­self, not to men­tion blight elim­in­a­tion in the neigh­bor­hood.

Kens­ing­ton busi­ness own­er Me­le­tios, “Mel” An­thanas­i­adis said the city is lit­er­ally tak­ing away his re­tire­ment plan.

And now, he said, he’s sav­ing up for leg­al rep­res­ent­a­tion.

In a move that’s stirred con­tro­versy with­in the past week, the city of Phil­adelphia re­cently util­ized the power of em­in­ent do­main to ac­quire sev­er­al prop­er­ties in Kens­ing­ton for an af­ford­able hous­ing de­vel­op­ment, and An­thanas­i­adis has made it clear he is none too pleased.

Neither are neigh­bors all over the River Wards, if on­line chat­ter about the story is any in­dic­a­tion.

Gov­ern­ment and de­vel­op­ment rep­res­ent­at­ives, however, up­hold the land grab as a step to­ward what’s best for the land and the com­munity.

“This is a good ex­ample of em­in­ent do­main do­ing what it’s sup­posed to do,” said Mar­wan Kreidie, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Ar­ab Amer­ic­an Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion (AACDC), which, along with Con­ifer Re­alty LLC, pro­posed a 45-unit af­ford­able hous­ing and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment for the area in Septem­ber. “The ques­tion is, what is the best use of this land?”

The use of em­in­ent do­main al­lows gov­ern­ments to ac­quire private prop­erty for “pub­lic use,” such as the build­ing of a tele­phone pole or road, the re­mov­al of blight, or gen­er­al eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment. It’s tough, though, un­der state law, for prop­erty own­ers to fight em­in­ent do­main, a gov­ern­ment right.

The de­vel­op­ment is planned to be erec­ted on the block bordered by Jef­fer­son, Bod­ine, Ox­ford and Cad­wal­lader streets, which com­prises many va­cant and over­grown lots, sev­er­al of which already be­long to the city. Five oc­cu­pied homes on the block are not be­ing taken for this de­vel­op­ment.

But An­thanas­i­adis, who is the land­lord of about 20 area prop­er­ties, ac­cused the city of leg­al theft. Sev­en of his prop­er­ties — gar­ages he said are cur­rently ren­ted — are be­ing taken from him, two of which he said are act­ive auto shops.

“You’re tak­ing my fu­ture, my kid’s fu­ture,” An­thanas­i­adis told Star in front of his pizza shop, El Grego Pizza and Lunch­eon­ette, at 1500 N. 2nd St. “And I can’t do noth­ing, be­cause it’s leg­al.”

An­thanas­i­adis told Phil­adelphia City Pa­per he pur­chased the prop­er­ties to rent them to ten­ants un­til he could af­ford to de­vel­op on them. It was, he said, a “re­tire­ment plan.”

The Phil­adelphia Re­devel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (PRA) is of­fer­ing pay­ment to own­ers of private prop­er­ties on the block, but An­thanas­i­adis said for sev­en prop­er­ties he is be­ing offered $80,000 to $90,000, “Not even one-sev­enth of what I’d make in the open mar­ket,” he said.

The hous­ing pro­ject is named “Ta­jdeed,” which means “re­new­al” in Ar­ab­ic, and was se­lec­ted through a com­pet­it­ive pro­cess, ac­cord­ing to PRA spokes­man Paul Chrys­tie.

“Ta­jdeed was sub­mit­ted to OHCD [Of­fice of Hous­ing and Com­munity De­vel­op­ment] in Septem­ber 2012 in re­sponse to an RFP [re­quest or pro­pos­als] for af­ford­able rent­al hous­ing de­vel­op­ments,” Chrys­tie said in an email. “There are a num­ber of des­ig­nated Urb­an Re­new­al Areas where, when an ap­pro­pri­ate re­use is iden­ti­fied and fund­ing is avail­able, the city may util­ize em­in­ent do­main to ad­vance com­munity re­vital­iz­a­tion.”

Rep­res­ent­at­ives of the East Kens­ing­ton Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation, which rep­res­ents the area closest to the de­vel­op­ment, de­clined to com­ment on the de­vel­op­ment.

But many neigh­bors have ex­pressed an­ger or dis­be­lief over the use of em­in­ent do­main.

“I’m a friend of Mel’s, and it’s a shame that they’re tak­ing his prop­er­ties,” Dave Ben­son, a res­id­ent who lives near the pro­ject, told Star.

Neigh­bor­hood con­cerns re­lated to the pro­ject will be ad­dressed in the near fu­ture, ac­cord­ing to coun­cil­wo­man Maria Quiñones-Sanc­hez (D-7th dist.). She said she soon would sit down with the AACDC to hold com­munity meet­ings for neigh­bors, and ad­ded that she has already spoken with every prop­erty own­er on the block.

“This is part of sev­er­al dif­fer­ent af­ford­able and trans­form­a­tion­al pro­jects there [in that area],” Quiñones-Sanc­hez said, cit­ing plans for a res­id­en­tial de­vel­op­ment at the Um­brella Fact­ory at 5th and Jef­fer­son streets, and for Ben­son Park, at Lawrence and Mas­ter streets.

But she said plans for this sort of urb­an re­new­al in the area date back 10 years.

“People are be­ing disin­genu­ous,” she said. “They’re not sur­prised.”

This will be the first hous­ing pro­ject for the AACDC, which was foun­ded in 1997 and is a sec­u­lar non-profit or­gan­iz­a­tion that rents of­fice space in­side the Al-Aqsa Is­lam­ic So­ci­ety, a mosque that dir­ectly neigh­bors the block in ques­tion.

Kreidie said the AACDC and Al-Aqsa share at least one board mem­ber, but are not in­volved in each oth­er’s af­fairs.

Rent­al units in the hous­ing de­vel­op­ment will not be dis­crim­in­at­ory in any way, Kreidie ad­ded. Five units would be set aside for low-in­come house­holds.

The fi­nal de­vel­op­ment will be de­signed by ar­chi­tect Tim Mc­Don­ald, with Ar­ab­ic arches and tiles in­cor­por­ated in the design, and net-zero en­ergy stand­ards which would util­ize green tech­no­logy so that res­id­ents don’t have to pay for elec­tri­city.

Kreidie es­tim­ated $14 mil­lion as the budget for the de­vel­op­ment. The total gov­ern­ment sub­sidy is about $1.8 mil­lion, and the pro­ject is also ex­pec­ted to re­ceive tax cred­its gran­ted to the AACDC from the Pennsylvania Hous­ing Fin­ance Agency.

Among An­thanas­i­adis’ com­plaints was that he re­ceived let­ters that his prop­er­ties were be­ing con­sidered for con­dem­na­tion that were post­marked after the dates on sub­sequent let­ters that title had been trans­ferred to the PRA.

“PRA seeks to be thor­ough and com­pre­hens­ive in provid­ing no­tice to prop­erty own­ers, and in the case of Mr. An­thanas­i­adis, let­ters were sent to both the prop­erty ad­dresses and the 2nd St. pizzer­ia,” Chrys­tie said.

Ad­di­tion­ally, let­ters in ma­nila en­vel­opes were pos­ted on ply­wood sticks in front of every in­di­vidu­al prop­erty on the block. Many let­ters re­mained un­touched last week, in­clud­ing five ad­dressed to the City of Phil­adelphia, which already owned sev­er­al prop­er­ties on the block.

Those in sup­port of Ath­anas­i­adis joined him Sat­urday out­side his prop­erty at 1529 Cad­wal­lader St. That ad­dress is one of the auto shops, North­ern Liber­ties Auto Re­pair. City Pa­per also re­por­ted that the busi­ness will get re­lo­ca­tion as­sist­ance.

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

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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