No vote on future of vacant convent

The owners of the former convent at St. Bartholomew Church asked members of the Wissinoming Civic Association on May 31 to support their plan to repurpose the property.

Problem was, the owners hadn’t decided exactly what they want to do with the vacant three-story stone building.

As a result, the WCA board refused to call a vote on the owners’ pending zoning appeal, asking them to appear again before the community group at a later date with more-specific plans. The owners are scheduled to make their case for several zoning variances before the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment on June 14, but that hearing may be postponed.

A partnership known as St. Bart Center LP bought the property at 5520–22 Harbison Ave. from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for $280,000 in May 2014, city tax records show. The parcel covers about one-half acre and includes the 15,000-square-foot building. In a zoning application, an attorney for the owners stated that the archdiocese used the site as a convent from 1926 until the 2014 sale.

The attorney, William Kerr, told attendees of the WCA meeting that the owners’ plan is to convert the first floor into two professional offices and the second floor into a third professional office as well as six single-room residences. The third floor would be used as 17 single-room residences in the owners’ plan, while the basement would serve as tenant storage.

Kerr said that the owners had not identified specific tenants for any of the proposed rental units. The single-room residences could be used as a youth hostel, dormitory-style housing for foreign students, temporary housing for “young professionals” who work in the area or even a transitional housing facility for children awaiting placement in foster homes, Kerr said. The bedrooms would have shared kitchens and bathrooms.

Kerr described the site as a hardship on the owners because its traditional use as a convent is no longer viable and because its zoning calls for a single-family residence. One of the owners, Tina Patel, said that the partners have spent the last two years trying to find a tenant under the existing zoning with no success.

Meeting attendees replied that the owners should have been aware of the zoning regulations before purchasing the property. Robb Reichord, the WCA vice president who chaired the meeting, told Kerr and Patel that the community could not vote on the zoning application without specific information about its proposed use. Reichord also said the community could not vote on hypothetical uses.

Also during the meeting, the WCA announced its newly elected board of officers. John Barnes continues as president with Reichord as vice president, John Nolen as treasurer, Catherine Talarchek as recording secretary and Fran Torres Jr. as sergeant at arms.

Greg Bucceroni of Philadelphia’s Town Watch Integrated Services reported that WCA member Joe Sindone has offered to coordinate the formation of the new Wissinoming Town Watch. Volunteers are needed for neighborhood patrols and for stationary block watch duties. Those who sign up will participate in a free training workshop. For information, call Joe Sindone at 267–444–1414. ••