Holme Circle residents appear to have won their fight to block the conversion of a local convent into a low-income apartment building.
On March 14, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency board elected not to grant public funding for the redevelopment of the 45,000-square-foot Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth residence at 2701 Holme Ave. As a result, according to two area state legislators, the would-be developer has decided not to pursue the project.
State Reps. Ed Neilson and Kevin Boyle both told the Northeast Times that officials from Columbus Property Management and Development Inc., doing business as 1260 Housing Development Corp., have said that they will withdraw their plan to convert the six-story convent.
“They will not be resubmitting this project [for state funding],” Neilson said. “They said they have other projects where the community is welcoming, where [neighbors] are more receptive than us.”
“That’s what they communicated to us as well,” Boyle said. “It’s a great day for Holme Circle and Winchester Park.”
The Holme Circle Civic Association learned late last year of the low-income apartment building proposal. The religious order has owned the building for decades, but had occupied only a small portion of it in recent years as the number of nuns living there declined. Most of the building remained vacant and fell into disrepair.
The sisters built a new, smaller convent on an adjacent parcel of land and have been planning to sell the old convent.
CPM proposed an $11 million renovation of the site into a 66-unit apartment building that would target low-income military veterans as tenants. It would’ve been called The Stella in memory of a martyred Holy Family sister.
CPM sought a public subsidy in the form of a Low Income Housing Tax Credit from PHFA. The state agency on Thursday awarded tax credits totaling more than $16 million to 17 projects. CPM’s Stella project was not one of them.
According to Neilson, PHFA funds about 20 to 25 percent of tax credit applications it receives in any given year.
Neighborhood opposition to the proposal was strong and included the Holme Circle and Winchester Park civic groups, along with Nazareth Hospital, Neilson, Boyle and state Rep. John Sabatina. The project site is in Boyle’s district and within blocks of Neilson’s and Sabatina’s districts.
Neighbors feared that a big apartment building for low-income renters would conflict with their community of single-family homes and would be detrimental to property values. Holme Circle Civic Association leaders were skeptical of what they perceived as ambiguities and contradictions in the developer’s application for state funding.
In the application, the developer claimed it had received positive feedback from the community, but CPM officials did not meet with the HCCA until after filing the application. Further, the civic group learned that the developer could not legally guarantee that all tenants would be military veterans.
Speaking on behalf of the HCCA board, President Elsie Stevens said, “Holme Circle Civic opposed [the] proposal because it lacked sufficient specificity about the long-term use of the convent building. However, our civic will continue to work with interested parties to ensure that the appropriate future use of the property is mutually beneficial to prospective owners, residents and the community.”
Stevens said that the HCCA will next meet on March 27, at 7 p.m., at St. Jerome’s School hall, Stamford and Colfax streets. City Councilman Dennis O’Brien is expected to speak about the future of the convent property and other local issues such as traffic problems on Holme Avenue. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org