Developer A No-Show In His Fight To Demolish Historic Roxborough Home

 

Gateway to Roxborough: the corner property at Green Lane & Manayunk in limbo | Photo: Bradley Maule

Gateway to Roxborough: the corner property at Green Lane & Manayunk Avenue in limbo | Photo: Bradley Maule

Generally speaking, when you’re trying to win over a neighborhood you’re trying to convince to okay demolition of a historic property, you probably want to show up to the meeting where you’re expected to meet your case. But Todd Joseph, who wants to demolish 365 Green Lane in Roxborough, forgot about last night’s monthly meeting of the Central Roxborough Civic Association (CRCA)—a staffer reached him by phone in Pittsburgh—and was therefore a no-show.

The sad affair of the Bunting House has proven a lesson learned for Roxborough residents concerned with the historic fabric of their neighborhood. That circa-1880 home, on the corner of Ridge and Roxborough Avenues, was demolished over a year ago and the developers’ plans to replace it with a Wendy’s have stalled. The Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBA) okayed the developers’ plans for a takeout restaurant, but denied a drive-thru window on the already-congested corner. Wendy’s won’t build without a drive-thru and the developers are stuck with an empty lot until they can find a resolution. They’ve appealed the ZBA’s decision and have a court date for it in June.

Composite of six-home proposal based on renderings by DCV Architect, accessed via CRCA

Composite of six-home proposal based on renderings by DCV Architect, accessed via CRCA

With 365 Green Lane, the developer Joseph wants to demolish the single home and replace it with six-to-eight townhouses. To do that, he’ll need to get the ZBA’s approval, as the home was rezoned RSD-3—single family dwelling—during a CRCA-led process to protect larger, older homes after the Bunting House debacle. And to get the ZBA’s approval, he’ll have to contend with passionate neighbors who want to save another old house from the wrecking ball.

In Joseph’s absence, CRCA President Don Simon took a vote anyway: 0 in favor, all opposed. The unanimous nays hope to preserve the Second Empire house built by William Raynor in 1871 and first inhabited by industrialist Benjamin Kenworthy. The neighbors largely see the home as the gateway to Roxborough. Situated prominently on the corner of Manayunk Avenue, the home is set back from the street above a wall of Wissahickon schist, with porches fronting both Green Lane and Manayunk Avenue. It’s a handsome vista to those traveling up steep Green Lane from Manayunk (where the street continues across the Schuylkill River to ramps to I-76).

It’s one of a number of homes built in the mid-to-late 19th Century a committee is hoping to designate as the Leverington Historical District. Many Manayunk and Roxborough mill owners and businessmen built their homes on the area’s avenues: Shurs Lane, Roxborough Avenue, Leverington Street; 365 is one of nine homes on Green Lane in consideration. In July 2013, genealogist and architectural historian John Manton began researching the various homes to prepare a nomination, but Joseph submitted his demolition application before the nomination could be submitted to the Philadelphia Historical Commission (PHC). PHC generally has a custom of recusing itself from reactionary matters, such as designating a home for which a demo permit has been filed. Hidden City was unable to reach Executive Director Jon Farnham for clarification by the time of publication.

Stone walls are common on the hilly older streets of Roxborough like Green Lane | Photo: Bradley Maule

Stone walls and Second Empire homes are common on the hilly older streets of Roxborough like Green Lane | Photo: Bradley Maule

Under the name 1801 CBM A to H, LLC—for Cecil B. Moore (where he’d previously developed homes similarly) A-to-H, as in “homes A through H” (i.e. 1 through 8)—Joseph purchased the 3,305 sq ft house for $200,000 in December from the family of the late Millicent Berghaus, who owned the home with her husband John for over 50 years. A report by Carrie Hagen last month for Newsworks said that Berghaus’ family only wanted to sell the home to someone who would preserve it, and that Joseph’s camp assured them that would happen. Likewise, Roxborough attorney Hal Schirmer sent Joseph a letter explaining the RSD-3 zoning.

Nevertheless, Joseph applied for demolition and submitted plans to build the homes on the property, plans which were denied in February. An appeal was expected at the ZBA on Wednesday, May 14, but as the developer did not show at the civic association meeting, he has still not met City-mandated requirement to meet with neighbors. Schirmer said the ZBA will continue the appeal until after a meeting occurred. CRCA President Simon indicated that Joseph would be invited to the organization’s June meeting.

Having already blown off one meeting, he faces an uphill battle to sway unanimously opposed neighbors, and that hill on Green Lane is awful steep.

About the author

Bradley Maule is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and the creator of Philly Skyline. He's a native of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and he's hung his hat in Shippensburg, Germantown, G-Ho, Fishtown, Portland OR, Brewerytown, and now Mt. Airy. He just can't get into Twitter, but he's way into Instagram @mauleofamerica.



5 Comments


  1. bravo to the crca for not kowtowing to the developer or the trendy notion among certain “enlightened” individuals who believe that density is always better all the time in all places. Keep fighting the good fight.

  2. Yeah they’re plenty dense already!

  3. It’s a shame some of the houses that have been demolished in neighborhoods like Roxborough or even at 15h & Cherry couldn’t have just been moved instead. I’m sure there are plenty of places that would love to have a home like that.

    Good for the neighbors for not giving in.

  4. Mod Betty / RetroRoadmap.com

    I don’t quite get how developers can bait and switch like this. In one instance the family says it will only sell to someone who will preserve it, so why would they sell to this developer unless he outright lied to the family about his intentions? If that is the case, is there anything anyone can do?
    The other thing I don’t get, and I’ve seen this before – is people buying and demolishing properties before even finding out if what they want to put on the land is actually allowed (re the Wendys who won’t be built without the drivethru) – so now we’re stuck with an empty plot of land.
    I fully realize I’m probably naive to think that people (developers) will act on the up-and-up, but still it blows my mind when these things happen. At least it’s giving the neighbors a chance to assemble their case. Good luck to them! Mod B.

  5. Tragic! My great-grandparents lived there for years! I never was in the house, but my mother always tells stories, especially when coming up the hill! My great grandmother, who came from Poland with not a dime in her pocket, was successful enough to purchase that home – it has always been a point of inspiration for us.

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