Future of Liddonfield site, tractor-trailers discussed

An agreement to redevelop the former Liddonfield Homes public housing project may be imminent according to state Rep. Mike Driscoll and leaders of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association, who made that announcement during the community group’s monthly meeting last Thursday at St. Dominic’s Marian Hall.

The Liddonfield project was among several contentious topics discussed during the meeting. Other issues included tractor-trailer parking on Torresdale Avenue and odors emanating from a landscaping materials recycling facility in the neighborhood.

Driscoll and UHCA President Stan Cywinski each said that redevelopment rights for Liddonfield could be awarded formally as early as next month when the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s board of commissioners convenes for its monthly meeting. The board will meet on Feb. 18 at 3 p.m. at 12 S. 23rd St. A plan submitted by NewCourtland Inc. to convert the 32-acre Liddonfield site into housing for low-income seniors, a senior center and a sports complex for Holy Family University is in line to win a so-called “request for qualifications” process orchestrated by PHA.

“(The plan) has to be approved. It has to come back for ratification, but I believe we are within one percent of ‘there,’ ” Driscoll said. “We have to be a little cautious, but I really believe we’re going to be breaking ground this year.”

Cywinski said that City Councilman Bobby Henon notified him earlier last Thursday that Center City-based NewCourtland is positioned to win the bid. The UHCA had previously endorsed NewCourtland’s proposal. Another Center City firm, Diamond and Associates, had also sought the community group’s support for its separate bid, but that plan encompassed only 12 of the 32 available acres. PHA has not disclosed details about or cited the existence of any additional proposals. The municipal authority declined to comment on the status of the process on Friday.

Henon facilitated discussions among the civic association, NewCourtland, Holy Family and PHA to help the parties come to terms, Cywinski said. Driscoll also credited the community for strongly advocating for a desirable reuse of the property over several years.

“The people in this room, I can’t tell you how influential you have been in this process,” said Driscoll, whose 173rd district includes the Liddonfield site at Torresdale Avenue and Megargee Street. “(PHA) had the right to go back to affordable housing on that property, but we came to the table and our voice was heard.”

Cywinski said that he represented the civic association in negotiations with NewCourtland that resulted in a “letter of understanding” spelling out some of the terms of the project. NewCourtland plans to invest about $50 million in the site, including about $10 million to build two NCAA-caliber athletic fields. Holy Family would lease the fields for its sports program and community use. Holy Family has further agreed to offer $1 million in scholarships over 10 years to local students attending the university, Cywinski said. NewCourtland has agreed to give local seniors first option of filling the new housing units, Cywinski added.

The configuration of the new construction is still in the conceptual phase. In its guidelines for the project, PHA sought proposals for the construction of 300 housing units on a 12-acre portion of the tract bordering Cottage and Megargee streets. PHA did not specify desired uses for the remaining 20 acres.

In unrelated business:

• Cywinski reported that “No Truck Parking” signs have been installed along Torresdale Avenue between Linden Avenue and Ashburner Street as part of a pilot program launched by the city Streets Department at the urging of Councilman Henon. The signs are considered temporary, but earlier on Thursday, Henon introduced legislation in Council that would make the parking ban permanent if passed.

Local residents have complained repeatedly in recent years about tractor-trailers parking on the shoulder of Torresdale Avenue, particularly in front of Trumbette Playground, just south of the Interstate 95 entrance and exit ramps. The cause gained widespread exposure in December when three women died when their speeding car crashed into a parked tractor-trailer on Torresdale just north of Rhawn Street.

• Meanwhile, a new overnight tractor-trailer parking facility and service center has opened nearby. Express Truck and Trailer Service is at 8501 Hegerman St., the former site of a warehouse and distribution facility. According to owner Karj Sandhu, truckers can park there overnight, on weekends or for longer terms. Monthly rates are available. The center may be reached at 215–335–3335.

• UHCA Zoning Chairman Paul DeFinis reported that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had cited Britton Industries, at Torresdale Avenue and Tolbut Street, after receiving complaints from neighbors about odors. Britton is a landscaping and construction materials recycling facility. DeFinis said that the DEP ordered Britton to submit a plan for remediating the problem.

• Tom Geisler, vice president of the UHCA, reported that Henon issued a $1,200 City Council Activities Grant to the civic association, which hopes to use the money for neighborhood projects such as buying school supplies for local children. ••