Lafayette Redeemer seeks zoning permits to expand

The operators of the Lafayette Redeemer Life Care Center, an independent living facility for seniors in Fox Chase, are proposing to build “a small, 9,000-square-foot addition” to its existing three-story building on the edge of Pennypack Park.

Residents learned of the plan during the monthly meeting of the Fox Chase Homeowners Association and Town Watch on May 13 as Maria Wing, an attorney from the Stradley Ronon firm representing the Holy Redeemer Health System, addressed the civic group.

FCHA President Matt Braden described the presentation as “the start of a dialogue” and “an introductory conversation,” so residents did not vote whether or not to support the proposal, which would require City Council approval because the facility is in a designated special purpose institutional area, according to Wing.

Braden said that members of the civic group’s executive board and zoning committee will tour the site to make first-hand observations about the proposal. The home sits on a 10-acre campus at 8580 Verree Road.

Wing said that the addition would be attached to the front of the main building extending southward, opposite from the direction of the park. It would have three floors and a footprint of 3,000 square feet. The addition will be used to expand the home’s dining facility and recreation space, among other uses.

In addition to the overall Council approval, the project would require a zoning variance because builders would have to excavate a so-called steep slope, that is a grade of more than 6 percent. Modifying the grade could affect stormwater drainage. Wing reported that 4,000 to 5,000 square feet of soil would be moved, which is below the threshold that would require Philadelphia Water Department approval for stormwater management.

As part of the project, Holy Redeemer also plans to erect new lighted signs that would make the facility more visible from the street.

Wing noted that Holy Redeemer officials have been in contact with their nearest neighbor, St. Stephen Orthodox Cathedral, about the proposal. Lafayette Redeemer residents also have been notified. Otherwise, there are no impacted neighbors nearby, the attorney said.

A broader construction plan for the site includes interior renovations that would not require city approval. If approved, the project would take 12 to 18 months to complete, although the exterior work would occupy a fraction of that timeframe.

In an unrelated zoning case, the civic group also tabled a vote on a local auto mechanic’s application to renew his auto sales permit.

Several years ago, the owner of High Tech Automotive at 7509 Oxford Ave. obtained a temporary permit from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to sell used cars on an open lot at 7515 Oxford Ave. The shop owner, Sean Kelly, also owns the open lot, which is 2,600 square feet, less than one-tenth of an acre. A single home separates Kelly’s two properties. The sales lot is also next door to Oxford Beverage.

After obtaining a city auto sales permit, Kelly obtained a state-issued permit, paved the lot, painted parking spots and erected a small sales office. His temporary city permit is about to expire, so he’s seeking a renewal. Complicating matters is that the city overhauled its zoning code in 2012, changing the lot’s commercial designation from C-2 to CMX-2. Auto sales are not a permitted use under the new code, Kelly said.

Kelly reported that he has not installed any lights or signs on the lot, but he does have surveillance equipment installed, which is a benefit to the neighborhood. However, in a sometimes heated debate, a couple of neighbors complained that he parks too many cars on the lot.

Kelly said that in accordance with state requirements, he has at least five parking spots reserved for available cars, as well as two for customers. The state permit does not place a maximum on the number of cars he can park there. Kelly said that his employees also use the lot for their personal vehicles and for the short-term storage of cars belonging to repair shop customers.

Braden told the group that the lot often seems “crammed” with cars, although he “was under the impression that there would be a half-dozen cars” when the homeowners group consented to Kelly’s original sales permit in 2012.

After continued debate, Braden proposed that the group consent to a maximum of 11 parking spots on the lot, including nine for sales and two for customers, in keeping with the state minimums. The civic leader asked Kelly to produce a schematic drawing of the newly proposed configuration so that residents could vote on it at a future meeting.

In other business:

• Braden thanked Homeowners Vice President George Bezanis for conceiving and organizing the Northeast Mayoral Candidates Forum on April 10. The Homeowners teamed with Fox Chase Elementary School and the Northeast Times on the event. Five of the seven candidates (four Democrats and one Republican) participated. About 150 spectators attended.

• City Councilman Brian O’Neill delivered a $1,500 activities grant to the Homeowners. He reported that his new district office at 432 Rhawn St. is starting to draw visitors for constituent services. It will also be the site of a free shredding event on June 6 from 9 a.m. to noon.

• The Homeowners Association and Town Watch began their new monthly meeting schedule. They will meet on the second Wednesday each month except August and December at 7:30 p.m. at American Legion Post 366, 7976 Oxford Ave. ••