Councilman Henon pays visit to Upper Holmesburg

Henon gave updates on a lawsuit against Britton Industries, SLAPP lawsuit legislation and the NewCourtland development.

TIMES FILE PHOTO

The Upper Holmesburg Civic Association last week welcomed City Councilman Bobby Henon, who discussed updates on a lawsuit against Britton Industries, SLAPP lawsuit legislation and NewCourtland development.

A couple of months ago, the city of Philadelphia filed a lawsuit against Britton Industries, a mulch and topsoil supplier company with a site at 8901 Torresdale Ave. Residents of the neighborhood and members of the civic association have made their concerns clear with the company. Their main issue with Britton Industries has been the odor that travels for several blocks and the debris around their site.

Henon announced there will be a public hearing for the suit filed against Britton Industries on Tuesday, April 10, at 9 a.m. in City Hall, room 446. Henon mentioned that the city of Philadelphia can not shut down a business without a court order, but believes this was a significant development in the ongoing dilemma.

“It’s a pretty drastic move that the city is making by taking them to equity court,” said Henon. “They usually don’t do that.”

Henon and UHCA president Stan Cywinski urged those who are available that day to attend the hearing at City Hall.

Henon was encouraged that the court date has been set and promised to act if Britton Industries does not act appropriately.

“We will stand by to make sure they act responsible,” he said. “If they don’t, then we’ll encourage them to be shut down.”

This statement was followed by a roaring applause from the disgruntled members of the civic association.

Henon also delivered an update on a public hearing held last month at City Hall that addressed Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation lawsuit legislation.

Registered Community Organizations across the city have been subjected to frivolous lawsuits, typically from developers over land-use disputes.

These developers then intend to make the RCOs that they target spend large amounts of money to defend themselves.

Henon was very pleased to see members from several Northeast Philadelphia RCOs present at the public hearing and thinks progress was made with the open dialogue.

“We’ve raised this issue to get the attention of not just the city of Philadelphia’s law department, but the mayor’s office,” said Henon.

He added that lawmakers in the city are thinking of creative ways to ensure these lawsuits don’t continue to discourage those to be involved with their local civic association. Henon floated the possibility of “umbrella insurance” for civics across the city, much like how the Friends of Libraries in Philadelphia have.

Henon did acknowledge that most of the neighborhoods affected by these SLAPP lawsuits are typically located in gentrifying neighborhoods, but stated it can happen to any RCO.

Henon and members of UHCA were most optimistic about the updates regarding NewCourtland.

Last May, NewCourtland Senior Services purchased the land where the Liddonfield public housing site was located. The company plans to build senior housing, a community center and sport fields for Holy Family University on the land.

Cywinski took a tour of NewCourtland’s facilities on Allegheny Avenue a couple of days prior to the civic meeting and was very impressed with what he saw.

“The tour was great, they’ve got a lot of activities going on there,” said Cywinski. “(It’s) kind of like a small city.”

Henon assured the civic that NewCourtland will be a great addition to the neighborhood.

“NewCourtland is committed to Upper Holmesburg, first,” Henon said.

Henon and Cywinski told the group that their neighborhood will get the first shot at housing and jobs at the new facility. They expect the housing to fill up rather quickly.

“In terms of construction, the Holy Family fields will be constructed first, it will break ground in the fall,” said Cywinski.

Original plans were for ground to break this spring, but the city has recommended pushing back the date to remedy other outstanding issues with the land. He stated the construction for the “Life Center” and apartments should begin the following year and that they are looking at a “two-year window for completion.”

The next UHCA meeting will be held on Thursday, March 15, at 7 p.m. in St. Dominic’s Marian Hall. ••

John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com