The Mayfair Civic Association on Monday voted not to fight a proposed child daycare center on Holme Avenue.
And, yes, a portion of Holme Avenue does indeed fall within the Mayfair group’s territorial boundaries.
With several immediate neighbors strongly opposed to the daycare proposal, it was destined to be a hotly debated topic at the civic group’s bi-monthly meeting. But the dialogue took an unusual turn when zoning chairman Joe DeFelice delivered an explanation as to why Mayfair residents had any interest in the issue in the first place.
The site proposed for the new day care is the former Northeast Community Center at 2840 Holme Ave. That’s basically across the street from Nazareth Hospital and miles from the area considered by most folks as Mayfair.
The strongest opponents to the daycare mostly reside in the Rhawn Gardens subdivision immediately behind the old community center. As DeFelice explained it, Mayfair basically adopted the subdivision after other civic associations turned those residents away.
“Nobody else wanted it,” DeFelice said.
Years ago, Rhawn Gardens residents encountered another zoning-related controversy and approached two nearby civic groups for help. But the Winchester Park and Holme Circle civics chose not to extend their official boundaries to include the subdivision. Mayfair took up the cause.
“A zoning issue arose and we handled it,” DeFelice said.
Now, the section is technically part of Mayfair Civic, even if it’s clearly not part of the Mayfair neighborhood.
For much of the meeting, the new owner of the former community center found himself defending complaints from immediate neighbors about the proposed daycare use. After a prior owner defaulted on a loan, a bank foreclosed on the property. A Huntingdon Valley company headed by real estate developer Jeff Fuchs bought the site for $800,000 in September, according to city records.
Fuchs said he is leasing one portion of the 18,000-square-foot building to a religious group while conducting renovations to the building and 3/4-acre property.
The proposed daycare center is not affiliated with the religious group and would serve up to 50 children ages 6 months to 5 years. The center would operate under the Children of America organization and be fully accredited. It could be open Monday to Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., depending on the schedules of clients.
Fuchs said that the former community center used to operate a daycare center there, so, “It was designed for that purpose.” There’s a small outdoor play area behind the building along Solly Avenue. The owner needs a zoning variance to lease the building to two separate organizations simultaneously.
One neighbor complained that several older residents live very close to the rear of the building and would be negatively impacted by the noise of the children.
“They don’t want to hear kids all day,” the woman said.
Fuchs acknowledged that the children would spend time outside.
“Children are children. This is where the playground is. They’re going to have recess,” the owner said.
The same neighbor also complained about the poor condition of the building, particularly peeling paint, and a crumbling sidewalk. Fuchs responded that the building had been vacant and vandalized before he bought it, so he was trying to make repairs. He’s also been trying to get police to crack down on teenagers who often drink behind the building where it abuts Pennypack Park.
Elsie Stevens, president of the Holme Circle Civic Association, reported that nobody has removed the snow from the public sidewalk outside the property after the last two winter storms. While acknowledging that she initially endorsed a daycare center there, that was before Fuchs brought the religious group to the site. Now, Stevens is concerned about overcrowding.
“A number of residents are worried about over-utilization, that it’s too crowded now,” Stevens said. “What happens with a daycare and a church?”
Nance Kerns, vice president of the Friends of Pennypack Park, accused Fuchs of cutting down trees in the park adjacent to his parking lot. Fuchs said the trees were on his property and that the limbs were overhanging the lot by “thirty or forty feet.” Kerns said he should’ve trimmed the limbs, but not cut down the trees. She claimed that the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation is investigating the tree removal.
DeFelice proposed several conditions or “provisos” for members of the civic association to consider before voting on the proposal. Among 28 who cast votes, 20 agreed not to oppose the plan as long as Fuchs erects a privacy fence behind the play area, paints the building, maintains the property, removes snow on time and joins the Mayfair Business Association. The civic group also demands that the daycare remains accredited.
Three members voted to oppose the plan, while five voted not to oppose it regardless of the attached provisos. ••