Northeast Times

Liddonfield changes coming

Last week, Upper Holmesburg Civic president assured concerned neighbors that the Holy Family development is still on track.

Up­per Holmes­burg res­id­ents re­joiced in Ju­ly 2012 when the Phil­adelphia Hous­ing Au­thor­ity board en­dorsed a plan to trans­form the former Lid­don­field pub­lic hous­ing pro­ject in­to a new ath­let­ic cam­pus for Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity. Yet, the site looks no dif­fer­ent today than it did back then.

In fact, little has changed on the 32-acre tract at Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue and Megar­gee Street since 2010, when PHA razed more than 400 apart­ment units with the help of state fund­ing. Last week, Up­per Holmes­burg Civic As­so­ci­ation Pres­id­ent Stan Cy­w­in­ski as­sured neigh­bors that the Holy Fam­ily de­vel­op­ment is still on track.

Speak­ing at the monthly UHCA meet­ing on March 20, Cy­w­in­ski prom­ised to share more de­tails about the pro­ject at the next UHCA meet­ing on Thursday, April 17. All UHCA meet­ings are held at St. Domin­ic’s Mari­an Hall, 8532 Frank­ford Ave., and be­gin at 7 p.m.

“Trust me, we will have lots of in­form­a­tion avail­able,” said Cy­w­in­ski.

The civic as­so­ci­ation pres­id­ent said he re­cently spoke with the lead de­veloper, John Par­sons of BSI Con­struc­tion, al­though Cy­w­in­ski was not at liberty to dis­cuss de­tails of the con­ver­sa­tion pub­licly. Cy­w­in­ski did re­veal that an­oth­er BSI-con­trolled prop­erty, the Academy Re­cyc­ling site at 8901 Tor­res­dale Ave., is also in line for ma­jor changes. That 13.3-acre prop­erty is dir­ectly across Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue from Lid­don­field.

“The scut­tle­butt is (Academy Re­cyc­ling) is gone and it’s go­ing to be something we like,” Cy­w­in­ski said.

Par­sons and his part­ner at BSI, Charles Cal­vanese, have not replied to tele­phone mes­sages left by the North­east Times

New in­form­a­tion about Lid­don­field has been dif­fi­cult to glean since Ju­ly 20, 2012, when PHA Com­mis­sion­er Es­telle Rich­man, act­ing as the lone mem­ber of the PHA board, ad­op­ted a res­ol­u­tion to award re­devel­op­ment rights to a con­sor­ti­um led by BSI. The res­ol­u­tion con­cluded a months-long bid­ding pro­cess. Yet, PHA of­fi­cials said at the time that the U.S. De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment would have to ap­prove a form­al sale of the site to the BSI con­sor­ti­um. PHA is a pub­lic en­tity that re­ceives fed­er­al fund­ing from HUD.

The sale was still pending in March 2013, when Cy­w­in­ski re­por­ted at a UHCA meet­ing that the de­velopers hoped to wrap up the deal and build new ath­let­ic fields on the site in time for the spring 2014 uni­versity sports sea­son. The civic pres­id­ent cited Par­sons and Sis­ter Francesca On­ley, the Holy Fam­ily pres­id­ent, as his sources.

Last Novem­ber, Cy­w­in­ski re­por­ted that he had ad­di­tion­al con­ver­sa­tions with the de­veloper, who told him that the sale could be com­pleted by the end of the cal­en­dar year. It was not.

In Janu­ary, an aide to state Sen. Mike Stack re­por­ted dur­ing a UHCA meet­ing that Stack had re­ques­ted Gov. Tom Corbett to al­loc­ate state fund­ing to the re­devel­op­ment pro­ject. The 2014 Re­devel­op­ment As­sist­ance Cap­it­al Pro­gram has $300 mil­lion in avail­able grant money, the Stack aide said. Typ­ic­ally, grants are awar­ded in sev­er­al phases throughout the year.

Dur­ing the Feb­ru­ary UHCA meet­ing, Cy­w­in­ski said that the de­veloper may be fa­cing a March 31 dead­line to com­mence the pro­ject. Un­der the terms of the PHA con­tract, the con­sor­ti­um agreed to pay $4.2 mil­lion to PHA for the land. In ad­di­tion, Holy Fam­ily agreed to award $1.04 mil­lion in aca­dem­ic schol­ar­ships to PHA res­id­ent stu­dents over 10 years.

Reached by tele­phone on Monday, Sis­ter Francesca stressed that Holy Fam­ily is not a mem­ber of the de­vel­op­ment con­sor­ti­um, but rather is a third party that would take pos­ses­sion of the new ath­let­ic fa­cil­it­ies once com­plete. The uni­versity pres­id­ent ad­ded that it re­mains the sole re­spons­ib­il­ity of BSI and its part­ners to fin­ance the pur­chase of the prop­erty.

“We were ap­proached a couple of years ago. We were told by John Par­sons that it would not cost us money,” Sis­ter Francesca said. “This pro­pos­al was nev­er a re­spons­ib­il­ity of Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity. It was al­ways John Par­sons’ pro­ject presen­ted to Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity.”

Sis­ter Francesca ad­ded that the uni­versity is still in­ter­ested in the ath­let­ic fields de­vel­op­ment and in work­ing with the com­munity on the pro­ject.

In ad­di­tion to the ath­let­ic fa­cil­it­ies, the plan also calls for the con­struc­tion of apart­ment-style res­id­ences and re­tail shops along Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue, along with a 64-unit hous­ing com­plex for low-in­come seni­ors along Cot­tage Street. Con­trary to pri­or news re­ports, the uni­versity would have no own­er­ship or man­age­ment of the Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue res­id­ences, Sis­ter Francesca said.

Dur­ing UHCA meet­ings, neigh­bors have raised con­cerns that the ini­tial pro­ject would not ma­ter­i­al­ize and that PHA would in­stead use the site for a new pub­lic hous­ing pro­ject.

Built in 1955, the ori­gin­al Lid­don­field was ini­tially used as trans­ition­al hous­ing for mil­it­ary vet­er­ans and their fam­il­ies. In time, it be­came a low-in­come hous­ing com­plex no­tori­ous for crime and drug use. Neigh­bors lob­bied gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials for dec­ades to shut down the fa­cil­ity. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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