Several key changes are in store for one Somerton housing development, while plans for another are coming into clearer focus, according to information revealed at the March 10 meeting of the Somerton Civic Association.
SCA leaders met with representatives from Westrum Development Company and from the office of City Councilman Brian O’Neill in advance of the monthly civic meeting to discuss modifications to the Arbours at Eagle Pointe project. The Arbours have been under construction since early 2008 at Southampton and Carter roads on a 55-acre portion of the former Philadelphia State Hospital.
SCA President Seth Kaplan reported during last week’s public civic meeting that Westrum hopes to sell or transfer 25 acres of dedicated open space to the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation. The open space is a buffer between the new homes and pre-existing homes along Carter Road. During the zoning and permitting process for the project, Westrum agreed not to build in the buffer zone, largely to appease concerns among Carter Road residents of excessive density.
During the prolonged construction phase, Westrum has been responsible for securing and maintaining the buffer zone. According to Kaplan, company officials are interested in disposing of the land, which could be used for a walking trail or other recreation under city control. Under the original plan, residents of the new Arbours community would take responsibility for the land once construction is complete.
Westrum is also planning to reconfigure an unbuilt portion of the project to eliminate multi-story condominiums in favor of additional quad-style homes, which have become more popular among buyers.
Another housing development is moving forward nearby. The Philadelphia Quartett Club has a decades-long history at 1075 Southampton Road, but has fallen into financial difficulties and plans to sell its 13-acre golf course to local builder Rocco Cavallo, who hopes to build between 37 and 41 single homes there, Kaplan said. The golf course is expected to remain open to business through September.
O’Neill said that he is expecting high-quality construction, including the homes and the streetscape, and he will not support the necessary Council ordinances for the project unless those expectations are met. A project of that size would likely require the construction of new city streets. Only Council can approve new streets.
The SCA addressed several other agenda items:
• Both O’Neill and Councilman Ed Neilson criticized Mayor Michael Nutter’s recent city budget proposal, particularly his proposed 9.34-percent property tax increase to benefit public schools.
O’Neill, the lone Republican among the city’s 10 district council members, called the property tax hike “a non-starter,” meaning that he would not consider supporting it. Council would vote on the tax proposal as part of a budget vote. That will not happen until after the May 19 municipal primary election. O’Neill is running to retain his seat and is unopposed.
Neilson, a Democrat who is one of six at-large Council members (not including one vacant seat), thinks that Nutter proposed the tax increase to build a reputation as a public schools advocate. Nutter is in the last year of his second four-year term and is ineligible to run for reelection.
“He’s looking for a job. He wants to be a congressman,” said Neilson, who mentioned embattled Rep. Chaka Fattah as the man whom Nutter would likely replace in the U.S. House. “He wants to say, ‘I funded education.’ ”
Nutter lives in Fattah’s district. Fattah’s former chief of staff recently pleaded guilty to federal charges related to a campaign finance scheme and is reportedly cooperating with an ongoing federal investigation. Fattah has denied wrongdoing.
Neilson is one of 21 candidates in the race for five Democratic nominations to at-large Council seats. All five nominees will be expected to win seats in November’s general election because their party has a huge voter registration advantage, about 7–1 over Republicans.
As a former state representative, Neilson has an understanding of school funding from the city and state levels. He told the Somerton residents that the city should ensure that it gets a commitment on school funding from Harrisburg before it again burdens its own residents with bridging the funding gap in the schools. The state has been managing the city’s public schools for the last decade through the School Reform Commission.
State lawmakers are expected to vote on Pennsylvania’s budget before Council votes on the city’s.
“Unless they put the votes in (for more state funding) up there, we shouldn’t do it here,” Neilson said.
• Kaplan, the SCA president, proposed that the civic group donate $100 to the fund supporting the family of slain Police Officer Robert Wilson III. Residents voted unanimously in favor. Hearing that, Martina White, the Republican nominee for the vacant 170th district seat in the Pennsylvania House, pledged to match the donation. Subsequently, a man representing the 58th Democratic Ward pledged a third $100 donation from his political organization.
The Democrats have nominated Sarah Del Ricci to oppose White in a March 24 special election to fill the seat vacated when Brendan Boyle resigned to take a seat in the U.S. House.
• Dan Lodise, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Boyle, invited residents to visit the congressman’s district office at 2375 Woodward St., Suite 105, or call 215–676–0300 for constituent services. Boyle also has a Glenside office and will be opening others in Olney and Norristown. ••