Note: Curbed Philly's policy on community development debates is very Switzerland. We prefer to let the people who live in the neighborhoods take sides. If you attend a community meeting and would like to give us your take, ping our tipline: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The below summary of last night's community meeting to debate the Apple Lofts project comes from Amara Rockar, who lives in West Philadelphia and supports the project. For the perspective of someone who opposes the project, head over the UC Review website and listen to a radio interview with Shawn Kelly of the West Philly Community Achievement Association.
The meeting started with the 51st Ward Leader, Vivian Miller, coming out against the project because as a retired person she can't afford property tax hikes and that home property taxes will go up as a direct result of this development. She also stated that the development has an abatement and will not pay any taxes for 10 years and it's a shame that individual homeowners can't get abatements.
Then someone from the Office of Property Assessment (OPA) who also lives in the area stood up and said that everything the Ward Leader just said was wrong and how the assessment process works. He also mentioned that other counties have Homestead legislation that gives property taxes breaks to longtime homeowners but not Philadelphia so that's something to contact Harrisburg about. Someone in the crowd also pointed out that while OPA sets the assessment, it's City Council that determines the tax rates. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell got up and reiterated that taxes are determined by comparison to similar properties and Apple Storage has no similar properties in the immediate area. She also said some vague noncommittal things like when well-intentioned people get together, a solution can be found, and she respects the will of the majority.
And then the shouting commenced:
· The development is going increase property taxes on single family homes in the area and the homeowners on 52nd Street aren't going to be able to afford their houses anymore and a) new people will buy them and it won't be the same neighborhood anymore, and b) the houses will become vacant and blight the community, and c) the developer is going to acquire them or d) some combination of the above.
· The six to seven expected jobs created by this development aren't enough—the warehouse should be used industrially so there are more jobs. The developer said he is in the business of developing residences, not industry and no one has approached him about that kind of use in the five years he's owned the building. The developer also reiterated that he was open to hiring from the community, including for the renovation work.
· The warehouse should go back to storage space use because it employed people, even alcoholics. The developer said he does not run a storage space business.
· The warehouse should be a senior center. The developer was open to some kind of center coming in to the first-floor commercial if a tenant is interested. He told everyone that he does not run senior centers.
· A lot of people made demands on the developer to show his "support for the community" and listed services city government is technically responsible for providing.
One woman, who owns on 52nd Street and was opposed because of the taxes, requested that the developer have his construction workers go down 52nd Street and fix up residents' homes. Such improvements would increase her home value and her assessment and therefore her taxes more certainly and immediately than the development.
· Monica Allison of Cedar Park Neighbors pointed out that the average prices for apartments in 19143 are $675 to $1,400 and so the developer's range of $800 for a studio to $1,300 for a two-bedroom, especially newly renovated, isn't exactly out of line. Many people discounted this. The developer said that a few longtime residents have come up to him after meetings (never during) to look at the layouts and pick out the apartment they plan to rent when the development opens.
· One person opposed the project because the rents would attract wealthier people who would bring more crime to the neighborhood because then people would want to rob them on their way into the building.
· A resident on 52nd Street was upset that there would be 112 apartments but only 92 parking spaces so where is she going to park?
· There was anger about not being notified but west of 52nd Street there's no neighborhood association for developers to contact. The Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBA) specifically says developers have to meet with Registered Community Organizations, which have to have boards, bylaws, regular meetings, etc. Again not nice things about Cedar Park Neighbors were said and the fact that 52nd Street is its western boundary.
· There were longtime residents, usually much quieter, who were excited about the project and that a developer was interested in coming to the area. One stood up and said he understood the concern about taxes but that people were saying they'd oppose the project if the developer didn't show support for the community but if he doesn't and people successfully oppose it, how does keeping a warehouse vacant support the community?
Shawn Kelly ended the meeting kind of abruptly. I don't know if the church needed everyone to get out or what. Shawn indicated that not much had be resolved and there was a need for the discussion to continue. We got to vote whether we supported the project on paper ballots, but Shawn kept saying they were "sample ballots" and never explained what, if anything, the vote would determine.