A proposal to demolish historic banks at Front and Norris streets and build low-income housing is being fought in court by two Kensington women who think the project is bad news.
Two Kensington women are awaiting a judge’s decision next week on whether to uphold variances to demolish vacant banks at Front and Norris streets, in order to construct a residential building.
“Density-wise, I don’t need to be a city planner to know that it makes no sense,” said Karen Lewis, a resident of Hope Street in Kensington, of the 25-unit residence that was proposed in March 2012 for 1942-58 N. Front St.
Lewis, along with Carmen Bolden, her co-plaintiff, appealed last year the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s decision to grant the needed variances to demolish the banks.
The site, currently occupied by two boarded-up former banks, Industrial Trust, Title & Savings and Ninth National Bank, is owned by the Women’s Community Revitalization Project (WCRP).
But even if the judge upholds the variances needed to demolish the existing structures, there’s no guarantee the project, known as the Nitza Tufino Townhomes, would go forward.
“There is nothing that is certain in this life,” said Nora Lichtash, executive director of WCRP, when asked about the status of the project.
“The money is still there,” Lichtash said. “[But] we’re still trying to figure things out. We’re not in a place where we can say what’s going to happen, because nothing is certain.”
Lichtash refused to answer further questions and did not respond to email requests for clarification. Another WCRP employee also declined to comment.
“No way do we want 25 units in that small space,” said Bolden, also a resident of Hope Street.
Star previously reported that 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.
At a May 9, 2012 community meeting, many locals pointed out that with two bars, a methadone clinic, and widespread drug dealing and prostitution near the site, it was not ideal for families.
According to WCRP’s web site, they primarily provide housing to low-income women with children.
Lewis said that the general atmosphere of pressure to support the housing project on the part of members of the Norris Square Civic Association and WCRP representatives caused her and her neighbors to break off and form their own registered community organization, Hope for Better Living Neighbors Association.
Lewis’s car tires were slashed, her car was stolen, and she was verbally threatened in front of her children after making her opposition to the project known, she said.
“The majority of the people that live on my block are low-income women with children, myself as one of them, and it’s somewhere I would not want to be crammed into … especially when there’s so many vacant lots around,” Lewis said of the project.
Other people opposed the project on historic preservation grounds. The banks were included by Logan Ferguson of Powers & Co, a historic preservation consulting group, in a list of potential Kensington textile-industry related landmarks.
The Norris Square Civic Association, the Fishtown Neighbors Association, and the East Kensington Neighbors Association voted at the May 9, 2012 meeting on variances for the Nitza Tufino Townhomes, including rezoning that section of Front Street from commercial to residential. Each group’s borders include the corner at Front and Norris streets.
The residents attending voted 60-21 against the project.
But at the actual ZBA hearing in August 2012, the WCRP presented 280 petition signatures in favor of the project.
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.