Hawthorne Street residents oppose retail project

More than a dozen residents of the 6100 block of Hawthorne St. attended last week’s Mayfair Civic Association meeting to fight a new dollar store and auto parts store proposed for a nearby block of Frankford Avenue. Those neighbors also got a lesson on the sometimes puzzling dynamics of the city’s recently reworked Registered Community Organization regulations.

The Hawthorne Street folks wanted to vote against the project, but they couldn’t because they’re not allowed to be members of the Mayfair Civic group. Technically, their block is marginally outside the civic association’s stated boundaries, while the commercial property in question — which now houses DeSimone Mitsubishi — is just inside those boundaries.

The Hawthorne Street residences share a property line with the car dealership and would likely be most affected by any redevelopment there. Yet, the Mayfair association was the RCO selected to host the developers’ presentation.

While Mayfair Civic President Donny Smith ultimately tabled a vote on the matter, he and the group’s zoning chairman, Joe DeFelice, assured the neighbors that they have a right to intervene in the zoning case despite not voting as part of the Mayfair association. DeFelice recommended that they align themselves with another civic group, such as the Northeast Quality of Life Coalition or the Wissinoming Civic Association. Or they might form their own group to fight the project.

Bala Cynwyd-based Moreland Development has applied for city permits to build the new stores. Eric Seidman, a principal in Moreland, told residents that his company is under agreement to buy the car dealership at 6101–37 Frankford Ave. and to raze it. Moreland plans to build a Dollar Tree store and an AutoZone store on the 1.65-acre property.

Immediate neighbors think it’s a terrible idea. The area is already congested with traffic, seeing as it’s mere yards from the busy intersection of Frankford and Harbison avenues. Further, the developer proposes to build an entrance on Hawthorne Street, a one-way street lined with well-kept rowhouses. The curb cut would be right next to the entrance to the residents’ rear driveway. Seidman and his engineers said that delivery vehicles would use the Hawthorne entrance, according to their plans.

Residents argued that the patrons and delivery vehicles would jeopardize the safety of children whose families live on the block. Further, they fear that AutoZone customers would park on their block while working on their vehicles.

“Why do you need to bring commercial traffic onto a residential street?” one frustrated man asked.

“We’re going to need an entrance on Hawthorne,” Seidman said.

The same man further argued that the stores would remain open late into the evening, further disturbing residents, while offering low-paying jobs.

The developer noted that the property is zoned commercial already, so he could build a store there as a matter of right, without a zoning hearing. Under his current plan, however, the city’s Zoning Board would have to grant him a “special exception” for the sale of auto parts on the site. Also, the board will hear arguments regarding the AutoZone’s setback. Under the current plan, the store would be too close to the property line at the corner of Hawthorne and Devereaux Avenue. Seidman said that his plans could be modified to increase the setback.

In an informal show of hands, Hawthorne Street residents indicated they opposed the plan as is. Some said they’d be willing to negotiate restrictions on the project in exchange for their approval. Smith and DeFelice agreed to postpone a formal Mayfair Civic vote pending a follow-up meeting involving the immediate neighbors and developers. The special zoning meeting will be on June 23 at 7 p.m. at Mayfair Community Center, 2990 Saint Vincent St. ••