Developers share plan to build a house near Byberry Creek

Members of the West Torresdale Civic Association criticized the Berea Street project for its proximity to the creek’s flood zone.

A zoning hearing notice sits in a bucket in front of the fenced, wooded Berea Street property. TIMES PHOTO / WILLIAM KENNY

A developer’s plan to build a house in a wooded area next to the Byberry Creek drew skepticism from members of the West Torresdale Civic Association during their bi-monthly meeting on Thursday.

City property records list longtime local developer Carl New as the owner of the 1.5-acre lot at 9811 Berea St. The land hasn’t changed hands since 1971, the city records show. But online real estate listings show that the land sold last year for $56,000.

In an effort to identify the true owner, the Northeast Times tried to contact an attorney listed on a zoning notice posted on the property, but a telephone message was not returned.

Meanwhile, two men identifying themselves as the new developers of the land showed plans for a new two-story house to neighbors at the civic meeting.

Byberry Creek bisects the parcel, which sits on a one-block portion of Berea Street that exists on the official city map, but was never developed. The block has no paving or utilities and is covered in trees and underbrush. Foliage also covers the residential lot, which is between six and 10 times larger than other parcels in the neighborhood.

At Thursday’s meeting, the developers showed neighbors plans for a two-story, single-family home. The house would include a cellar and be positioned on the undeveloped part of Berea just south of the intersection of Avalon Street. To access the house, they would construct a 120-foot driveway that would run parallel to the front of the property before exiting onto a paved portion of Berea.

During a question-and-answer period, the developers revealed that they had originally submitted a slightly different plan to the city. But the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspection rejected the application because a portion of the house would have infringed on a flooding zone.

The builders appealed the case to the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment and were granted a ZBA hearing date of July 12.

But at last week’s meeting, they claimed that they later submitted an amended plan in which the footprint of the house had moved five feet farther from the creek and out of the flooding zone. That new plan solved the flood-zone problem but triggered a new L&I refusal, the developers said.

The city’s zoning code requires houses in that district to be at least 25 feet from the street. But in the new plan, the proposed house would be only 20 feet from Berea Street.

For last week’s civic meeting, the developers provided no documentation that they had submitted the amended plan to the city, so civic association members decided not to vote on the issue. The builders agreed to attend a future WTCA meeting with full documentation.

Nonetheless, the neighbors openly criticized the builders for trying to erect a house so close to a flooding area and for proposing a driveway configuration that, they believe, would worsen dangerous traffic patterns in the area.

The builders agreed to request a postponement of the July 12 zoning board hearing. City Councilman Brian O’Neill’s zoning aide, Alice Udovich, said she would monitor the zoning calendar to confirm that the hearing gets postponed.

Also during Thursday’s civic meeting, O’Neill told neighbors about two new stop signs that will be installed to address their traffic complaints. The city’s Streets Department has approved stop signs at the Berea and Avalon intersection, as well as Avalon and Outlook. The department rejected neighbors’ requests for signage at two other nearby intersections.

O’Neill explained that traffic volumes at all four intersections fail to meet minimum levels to warrant stop signs under 50-year-old state guidelines. But in some cases, the city will install signs on local streets at the recommendation of City Council.

Months ago, neighbors lobbied O’Neill to get stop signs along Avalon Street from Academy Road to Chesterfield Road because motorists use the route as a shortcut to avoid congestion and traffic lights on Morrell Avenue.

O’Neill said that residents should expect to see the new signs installed in time for the start of next school year.

In addition, O’Neill said that he continues to fight a plan by a builder to erect about seven new single houses on a patch of ground behind the Whitehall Baptist Church and numerous existing homes. There is no city street to serve the site, so the builder has proposed to construct a private access road that would intersect with the 9800 block of Legion St.

The city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment has approved the plan, but O’Neill appealed to Common Pleas Court, which upheld the ZBA decision. O’Neill then appealed to Commonwealth Court, which has yet to rule on the case. ••

William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.