Central Roxborough Civic Association Meeting Minutes
June 1, 2017
- CRCA President Don Simon welcomed guests and reminded those present that CRCA does not normally meet in July in August unless there is a variance requiring RCO review
- Update on Green Lane: Last year CRCA opposed a proposal to tear down an existing home on Green Lane to be replaced with a triplex (the lot is zoned for single family homes). The Zoning Board of Adjustment agreed that a variance should not be granted, and the developer appealed to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. CRCA has retained counsel and is advocating for the Court to uphold the decision of the ZBA denying the variance. Please consider making a small (or large!) donation to CRCA to defray our mounting legal costs.
Fair Districts PA (fairdistrictspa.com)
Freya from Fair Districts PA delivered a presentation on this grassroots organization’s efforts on comprehensive redistricting reform. Fair Districts PA is a nonpartisan, statewide coalition to address gerrymandering.
Freya explained how the current system of reapportionment and redistricting is controlled by legislators who are tasked with periodically redrawing the boundaries for state senate districts, state house districts, and congressional districts. In Pennsylvania, this is dominated by the political party in power at the time.
Gerrymandering involves two key tactics – “cracking” (creating majorities that wouldn’t otherwise exist by splitting a population up and spreading its membership) and “packing” (creating majorities that wouldn’t otherwise exist by consolidating a population’s members).
PA’s 7th Congressional District is often cited as the U.S.’s most gerrymandered congressional district. The shape of the 7th District changed most dramatically between 2002 and 2013. During this time, advances in mapping technology and data mining provided more accurate information about populations than ever before. In addition, the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates for lots of undisclosed outside money to be pumped into local politics. The GOP developed a highly successful strategy to target/sway state legislative races during this time. In response, Democrats have now created a Redistricting 2020 Super-PAC.
The consequences of gerrymandering for voters is that they have fewer candidate choices in primaries, often no choice in general elections, and it becomes increasingly difficult to vote incumbents out of office. On a policy level, compromise becomes impossible with extremes governing politics so that moderate and reasonable ideas are ignored.
Fair Districts PA is supporting legislation (HB 722/SB22) that would ultimately create a constitutional amendment to create and Impartial Citizens Redistricting Commission. (Check out their website – fairdistrictspa.com for all the details). The bipartisan bill is currently in committee in both the state House and Senate. To become an actual amendment, it would need to be passed in 2 consecutive legislative sessions, followed by a public referendum.
Fair Districts PA has a Philadelphia chapter and a local working group for Northwest Philly that meets the last Tuesday of every month at Journey’s Way.
Philadelphia Folk Song Society
No one from the Philadelphia Folk Song Society was present to provide an update on their activities.
330 Carson Street (Attorney Richard DeMarco, Architect Scott)
This presentation was a proposal for new construction a semi-detached residence on Carson Street where the current zoning is RSA-5 (rowhomes). The proposed design is for a 3-story residence under 36 feet tall (thus not triggering a height variance) but that is taller than the house next door.
The developer is seeking 2 variances
- Side Yard – while the Zoning Code does not require properties to have any side yard, it dictates that if there is to be one, it cannot be less that five feet wide. The proposed side yard here is less than five feed wide in some strips.
- Front-loading garage – the Zoning Code expressly prohibits front-loaded (front-accessed) garages in RSA-5.
Attorney DeMarco explained that the Zoning Code no longer requires parking be provided with new residences, but parking is an issue and there is demand for dedicated parking with new construction. There is no on-street parking on this block of Carson Street, therefore the curb cut that would be created for the garage would not be “taking” a spot from street parking. The current design proposed a two-car wide garage (16 foot wide curb cut) with the residence above. Mr. DeMarco also stated that if the civic was willing to not oppose the variances, the developer would make concessions for better lighting/security cameras/aesthetic design elements.
- Q: In order to provide access, would this require moving a utility pole and cutting into the sewer? How would that be handled?
- A: The cost of any of that would be assumed by the developer and should have no impact on the neighbors. Anything like that would have to be approved by the appropriate governing agency as well.
- Q: Where would electric/utility meters go on this design if they are required to be visible from the curb?
- Q: The pictures in your presentation that you show as evidence of existing curb cuts and accessory parking on Carson Street all show driveways (not garages) with parking on the side of a house (rather than underneath the building).
- A: There’s no legal distinction between a driveway and garage; it’s the curb cut out front that triggers the variance.
- Q:It’s particularly an issue in this neighborhood that people don’t use their garages for parking and instead park on the sidewalk.
- A: Since this is a 2-car-wide garage, it has plenty of room to encourage both vehicles to use it.
- Q: How can anyone back out of the proposed garage onto Carson?
- A: The Streets Department approved the design after measuring the turning radius.
- Q: What hardship to do you propose to present to the ZBA?
- A: It’s almost impossible to market a house without dedicated parking.
- Q: The purpose of the prohibition on front-loaded garages is to preserve character, right?
- A: Yes, but there are other curb cuts on this block already.
The owner/architect/attorney were then asked to leave and Manayunk Neighborhood Council’s John Hunter led community discussion. MNC is the coordinating RCO for this project but CRCA is hosting the public meeting because this project was previously presented at a CRCA Zoning Committee meeting. CRCA’s Zoning Committee recommended the developer look at the vacant property next door as a means of acquired shared access for parking, which would be allowed by right under the Zoning Code. Mr. Hunter pointed out that there are no other garages on that section of Carson Street and that the lack of storage/basement space in the plans increases the likelihood that at least part of the garage would be used for storage rather than parking. MNC favors a consistent approach that supports the Zoning Code and tries to avoid making exceptions to policy for specific projects.
A straw vote of those present was conducted (the civic’s board will have the ultimate decision in determining its position before the ZBA). There were no votes to support the project, 2 votes of non-opposition, and the rest voted to oppose.