Deadline is extended for developers of Liddonfield site

Lead­ers of the Up­per Holmes­burg Civic As­so­ci­ation have shed new light on be­hind-the-scenes ne­go­ti­ations in­volving the re­devel­op­ment of the former Lid­don­field Homes pub­lic hous­ing pro­ject.

Speak­ing at the UHCA’s monthly meet­ing on April 17, Pres­id­ent Stan Cy­w­in­ski and Zon­ing Chair­man Paul DeFinis re­vealed that the civic group’s own de­mand for a de­tailed re­devel­op­ment plan is one reas­on that the first shovel has yet to touch the ground. Also, the Phil­adelphia Hous­ing Au­thor­ity and the U.S. De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment have ex­ten­ded the dead­line for the de­velopers to fi­nal­ize their pur­chase of the 32-acre Lid­don­field site at Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue and Megar­gee Street.

“By June 30, there has to be a name on the [sale] con­tract,” Cy­w­in­ski said.

DeFinis, Cy­w­in­ski and City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on re­cently dis­cussed pro­gress with John Par­sons, a prin­cip­al in BSI Con­struc­tion, a com­pany chosen by PHA to re­devel­op the site in part­ner­ship with oth­er firms. 

Based on that meet­ing, the Up­per Holmes­burg lead­ers be­lieve that the de­velopers con­tin­ue to ne­go­ti­ate with Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity over the school’s lease-pur­chase agree­ment with the de­velopers.

The con­cep­tu­al plan calls for BSI and its part­ners to build ath­let­ic fields on a por­tion of the prop­erty that Holy Fam­ily would ul­ti­mately ac­quire, al­though the uni­versity is not a party in the PHA sale. In ad­di­tion, the con­cep­tu­al plan calls for the con­struc­tion of privately owned uni­versity hous­ing and re­tail shops along Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue as well as seni­or hous­ing at the rear of the prop­erty along Cot­tage Street.

With sup­port from the civic as­so­ci­ation, PHA ap­proved that plan in grant­ing de­vel­op­ment rights to the BSI-led part­ner­ship in Ju­ly 2012. So, PHA has agreed to sell the land to Par­sons’ part­ner­ship, but the deal also re­quires HUD ap­prov­al. When the de­velopers sought a form­al let­ter of sup­port from the civic group, the UHCA lead­ers de­man­ded to see a de­tailed plan for the pro­ject. That is, they wanted to know the spe­cif­ic sizes and con­fig­ur­a­tions of the vari­ous com­pon­ents.

Ac­cord­ing to DeFinis, the ori­gin­al con­cep­tu­al draw­ing showed about 60 seni­or apart­ment units along Cot­tage Street, but the de­velopers now are seek­ing to in­crease that fig­ure — which would likely in­crease rev­en­ue gen­er­ated by the pro­ject. BSI of­fi­cials have not com­men­ted pub­licly on the is­sue.

“We have agreed to sixty seni­or hous­ing units,” DeFinis said. “That num­ber is prob­ably go­ing up. Is sixty enough [to close the deal]? Prob­ably not. … They’re talk­ing about pos­sibly build­ing more units and we’ll have to ap­prove that.”

Mean­while, the terms of the de­velopers’ agree­ment with Holy Fam­ily are also be­ing dis­cussed, the civic lead­ers said. Sis­ter Francesca On­ley, the uni­versity pres­id­ent, has told the North­east Times that the school did not agree to fund the pur­chase of the ground. That’s the re­spons­ib­il­ity of the de­velopers, she said. As part of the plan ap­proved by PHA, however, the school would grant aca­dem­ic schol­ar­ships to low-in­come PHA res­id­ents.

While Holy Fam­ily ul­ti­mately would own the ath­let­ic fields, the com­munity would also have some ac­cess to them un­der the plan en­dorsed by the civic as­so­ci­ation. The fa­cil­it­ies could in­clude base­ball and soft­ball dia­monds, as well as fields for soc­cer and oth­er sports, ac­cord­ing to the con­cep­tu­al design.

What might hap­pen if the parties fail to reach a con­sensus by the dead­line re­mains a mat­ter of spec­u­la­tion and fear among neigh­bors, who long suffered many pub­lic nuis­ances in the dec­ades that the prop­erty served as pub­lic hous­ing. PHA could re-bid the prop­erty to a de­veloper in­tent on build­ing new pub­lic hous­ing.

Yet, the cur­rent de­veloper also has a ves­ted in­terest in mak­ing the pro­ject hap­pen, ac­cord­ing to Cy­w­in­ski.

“You’re look­ing at a big con­tract, and they want to make sure they’re get­ting everything they can get,” Cy­w­in­ski said. “They’ve already spent a lot on this.”

In oth­er civic as­so­ci­ation busi­ness, res­id­ents heard from two can­did­ates who are run­ning for the open 173rd dis­trict seat in the Pennsylvania House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives. DeFinis, the UHCA zon­ing chair­man, and loc­al busi­ness­man Mike Driscoll are vy­ing for the seat that will open when Mike McGee­han re­tires in Janu­ary.

Driscoll and DeFinis are Demo­crats. The win­ner of the party primary on May 20 is ex­pec­ted to win the gen­er­al elec­tion hand­ily.

Driscoll is a Tor­res­dale res­id­ent who grew up in Ox­ford Circle. He served in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of former Gov. Bob Ca­sey, is former dir­ect­or of the May­fair CDC and is a found­ing part­ner of Ash­burn­er Inn on Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue as well as Finnigan’s Wake on Spring Garden Street. He also works in the bank­ing in­dustry.

“I have a ves­ted in­terest in Up­per Holmes­burg,” Driscoll said. “I want to get back in­to pub­lic ser­vice. I have ex­per­i­ence start­ing small busi­nesses and put­ting people back to work.”

DeFinis also is a loc­al busi­ness­man. He owns DeFinis State Auto Body on Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue as well as a pub­lic ad­just­ing firm. He has cited his ex­per­i­ence ad­voc­at­ing for con­sumers against the auto in­sur­ance in­dustry in Har­ris­burg, as well as his years of work on the civic as­so­ci­ation, where he helps pro­tect neigh­bors against un­wanted de­vel­op­ment. DeFinis grew up in Tor­res­dale and lives in Up­per Holmes­burg. ••

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