Development

Mount Airy Residents Up in Arms Over Development Proposal

December 14, 2021 | by Stacia Friedman

Real estate firm Zatos Investments plan to redevelop the lot of this former grocery store at the intersection of W. Hortter and McCallum Streets. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Since June 2021 residents in West Mount Airy claim that developer Zatos Investments has ghosted them. The real estate firm plans to erect a 24-unit apartment building at the site of the former JoaMart, a former one-story grocery at 361 W. Hortter Street. “We have tried repeatedly to meet with them for over six months, and they always find an excuse to cancel,” said attorney Beverly Penn, co-chair of the Joa Mart Ad Hoc Committee (JAHC). Tom Familetti, the owner of Zatos Investments, contends that it has just taken six months in dealing with the City to come up with a viable plan.

The JAHC has stated that they not against the proposed development, but rather the safety hazards it presents. The CMX-2 zoning code frees the developer from providing off-street parking in an already highly congested area where drivers regularly ignore the 25 mph speed limit and reach speeds of 50 mph. It’s not exactly Roosevelt Boulevard, but, with a daycare directly across the street and children boarding school buses on the corner, additional traffic is a serious safety concern.

“75 percent of residents support some kind of control device to slow traffic. Speed bumps or a traffic light at the intersection,” said Ray Basanta, who resides on the adjacent block. “Three years ago we asked the Streets Department to do a traffic study here. They claimed that the average speed was 29 mph. That may be true during rush hour when cars are bumper to bumper, but not at other times. When we asked to see the results of their study to check the time of day they conducted it, they refused.”

361 W. Hortter Street has a sizable footprint for a low-slung, one-story building. | Image: Zatos Investments

As far as construction incentives go, the developer can add an extra story to the proposed four-story building if there is a green roof or affordable housing units. For neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia, fighting CMX-2 zoning is problematic. Residents are frustrated that zoning, which enabled a neighborhood asset like a one-story grocery, can also apply to a multi-unit apartment building without parking.

Mount Airy is essentially a suburb within city limits. The neighborhood consists mostly of single-family homes built in the 1930s to 1940s with well-tended landscaping and tree-lined streets. The few large-scale apartment buildings date back to 1925 and are filled with architectural eye-candy like crown moldings, fireplaces, and archways. People choose to live there mainly because of the community’s diversity, affordability, and safety–all things that some residents believe could be jeopardized by by-right development in the area.

To build community support, the JAHC organized its first protest on Saturday, December 4 in front of the vacant grocery. It drew a large crowd, including Temple University professor Mark Leuchter, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art sculpture instructor John Horn and his wife Susanna Dicastro-Horn, and more than a few attorneys and architects, all of whom live within walking distance of the site. Passing cars honked encouragement in response to protest signs.

“They want to put a downtown building in our quiet, residential neighborhood. It is beyond reasonable,” said Mount Airy real estate attorney Yvonne Haskins. “The site is too small to accommodate that many units. And adjacent homes will be endangered if their retaining walls are damaged during construction.”

“I am upset about how this impacts my property and the value of my home,” said Darlene M. Temple, whose backyard abuts the development site. “They will not only cast my entire yard into shade, but they might cut down the old growth trees along my property line.”

State Representative Chris Rabb and neighbor Marq Temple at a demonstration on December 4 protesting Zatos Investments proposed development. | Photo: Stacia Friedman

State Representative Chris Rabb addressed the protesters. “I am opposed to this development,” he said. “I want to provide the resources to help you make good trouble so developers know not to mess with us.” Councilperson Cindy Bass was also there to add her support.

The JAHC is also working with West Mount Airy Neighbors (WMAN), a community resource. “WMAN is not going to be an advocate for developers, nor are we going to be in a position of opposition,” said Steve Kendall, WMAN president and a retired architecture professor. “Our goal is to help form lines of communication between neighbors and the development.”

Architect Morrie Zimmerman, chairman of WMAN’s Neighborhood Transformation Committee, has scheduled a tentative Zoom meeting on Thursday, December 16 between the planned development’s architect and leaders of the JAHC, during which a final rendering of the proposed apartment building will be discussed. Familetti said that he looks forward to the Zoom meeting during which which he will present the plan to residents. Meanwhile, the protests continue.



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About the Author

Stacia Friedman Stacia Friedman is a Philadephia freelance writer and visual artist who tried New York and LA on for size and came home to roost. Her articles have appeared in WHYY’s Newsworks, the Inquirer, New York Times, Broad Street Review and Chestnut Hill Local. She loves the city’s architecture, history and vibrant arts scene.

17 Comments:

  1. Wayne Batchis says:

    Nice article, but I think it is important to note that this development is just around the corner from a regional rail station and within a block or two of several large condo buildings. It is a bit inaccurate to describe Mt. Airy as “essentially a suburb” made up of mostly single houses. While single family homes make up about 1/3 of the housing stock, the neighborhood has many many blocks of rows and twins, and has the density of an urban neighborhood. A four or five story building is not at all out of character for the neighborhood. Fighting appropriate transit oriented development such as this is irresponsible in a time of rapidly increasing housing prices and a climate crisis.

  2. Jain Sawickij says:

    Does anyone really think that the current use of this property – a one-story dilapidated storefront that has been sitting vacant for many years – is better than housing?

    1. Jack says:

      Evidently some exclusionary, backward looking folks do think that way. NIMBYs gonna nimby I guess

  3. Dan says:

    “They want to put a downtown building in our quiet, residential neighborhood”

    Umm, there are 8 and 10 story apartment buildings less than a block away.

  4. Yvonne B. haskins says:

    Replying to Wayne Batchus…Ithe article did not say DETACHED SF homes. I live on McCallum in a twin, and it is a single family home. Row house can be SF homes. Your criticizing with the TOD argument about parking not being needed discounts the traffic danger on Hortter being a speedway to and from Lincoln Drive, making it a hazard to walk or drive around that intersection. It also discounts the impact of a high rise, tiny apartment/size complex on the quality of life of surrounding neighbors. And the design is ugly. It should never have been mapped as a CM-X2.5 across from a large pre-school where cars drop off kids. People in Mt. Airy still need cars, and the speed track simply compounds an awful plan for this site.

    1. Jane says:

      I drive this intersection every day on my way to work and back and it’s already congested enough. Definitely does not need a huge apartment building with no parking attached! I’m not against apartment buildings in Mt. Airy, but they could not have picked a worse spot for it!

      1. David La Fontaine says:

        I think that parking would increase, not decrease, traffic and parking.

        Also, I don’t think that 24 units qualifies as huge, even in Mt. Airy.

    2. Jack Johnson says:

      All I hear is crying. Welcome to a major city where development needs to happen everywhere.

  5. Heather says:

    It’s so interesting to hear about what local politicians will and won’t support. I wonder how the professors, attorneys, and architects in the neighborhood feel about the Family Dollar across the street?

  6. Jack Johnson says:

    Lol let them eat cake. If it’s a by right construction it’s over. Waaaahhhhhhhhhh. Your cries feed me mt airy

    If any RCO sues or any individual does, I will laugh because they’ll get sued into oblivion themselves. It’s precedent already. Abuse of process. Which is why all their complaining will do nothing! Hahahahaha

    Too bad it’s not twice as tall

    Also, “””The JAHC has stated that they not against the proposed development, but rather the safety hazards it presents.””” This quote is a prime example of what rich people and RCOs do when they fight development that doesn’t suit their tight buttholes. It’s pathetic, and anyone with a fold in their brain can see through it.

  7. Nimbys be quiet says:

    Is it their property? No? Then they don’t get to decide what goes on it.

  8. RNM says:

    Hidden City – I am usually such a fan of your work, but I can’t believe any editor there agreed to publish this driveling NIMBY nonsense. Development like this will help neighborhood businesses, increase ridership on the CHW line that is still recovering from COVID closures, and absolutely matches the neighborhood character. Even from standing at this corner you can see 4 other larger pre-war apartment buildings!

  9. Jane says:

    To the editor: this article needs fact checking. The author writes: “the neighborhood consists mostly of single-family homes.” But according to the most recent census data, about 76% of housing units in this census block are in buildings with 10 or more units, and just under 15% are actually single family (attached or detached) houses. Only 41% of housing units in this census block and the 5 immediately abutting blocks are single family attached or detached. The actual data shows that the neighborhood consists mostly of homes in 10-50 unit apartment and condo buildings.

  10. SouthJerseyOne says:

    Although I don’t see the “problem” with creating density in Mt. Airy, I do find it interesting that many residents of the City seem to complain about zoning only when it finally impacts them personally. I am not a Libertarian. The zoning exists and if residents believe that it was/is incompatible with their neighborhood, they should have made the effort to modify it long ago – although enabling Councilmanic Prerogative is appalling, IMHO. The same people opposed to this project would likely also be opposed to an historic district. Again, yet another instance of change in a dynamic urban environment being rejected. This is why Philadelphia can’t have nice things.

  11. James says:

    Build the building and create more jobs plus incentivince people to invest in a great project near the regional rail station where they can ride to jobs in the city!

    Pay no heed to nimbys and their negative spiels over a by right project

  12. David La Fontaine says:

    “People choose to live there mainly because of the community’s diversity, affordability, and safety–all things that some residents believe could be jeopardized by by-right development in the area.”

    So building within the boundaries of the zoning code is bad for the neighborhood? The author needs to re-think this sentence.

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