Developer scales back plans for Woodhaven apartments

New design calls for smaller apartment complex near Philadelphia Mills Mall, but it is not clear whether neighbors will drop their opposition to the project.

Ready to build: (From left) M&M Management’s Nancy Stusnick, Michael Gordon Jr., Michael Gordon and Mark Duszak stand in front of Rita Grace Manor, an apartment building at 9181 Academy Road. The developer is hoping to build a similar apartment complex on Woodhaven Road near Philadelphia Mills mall. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

A developer who had hoped to build a 520-unit apartment complex on Woodhaven Road has cut its project down significantly after receiving backlash from residents and 10th District Councilman Brian O’Neill.

M&M Management has revised its plans and is now looking to build fewer than 300 units on a 14.5-acre plot of land at 4301 Woodhaven Road near Philadelphia Mills mall.

It’s unclear, however, whether the redesigned project will garner any more support than the original did during a contentious Millbrook Civic Association meeting in January.

“I don’t expect cutting it in half is going to change things, but I’ll wait and see what the community says,” O’Neill told the Northeast Times after being told of the revisions.

During the meeting in Millbrook, more than 70 residents voted unanimously to oppose the project after a presentation from M&M Management. Their main concerns were traffic, parking, the quality of the construction and the potential for tenants they consider to be undesirable.

Gordon, in a recent interview, said those arguments don’t hold up.

“They only had one logical thing, and it was traffic,” he said. M&M Management is planning to commission a new traffic study, Gordon’s partner Mark Duszak said.

Duszak said the revised plan calls for 285 to 295 units and three buildings instead of five. He said initial designs include of a ratio of 1.21 parking spaces for every apartment, which would mean about 345 spots for a 285-unit complex. Gordon also said they have been in talks with Philadelphia Mills to rent additional parking areas to accommodate any overflow cars.

A spokesperson for Philadelphia Mills declined to comment on any discussions, saying the mall has no ties to the planned apartment complex.

Gordon argued the redesigned proposal addresses many of the neighbors’ worries by slashing the number of units, increasing parking and adding green space. Other concerns were misplaced, he said.

“I don’t build shabby, and I don’t do subsidies,” Gordon said.

As an example, Gordon and his team pointed to Rita Grace Manor, 9181 Academy Road, a 73-unit apartment building M&M Management rebuilt two years ago after a fire.

The building is 100 percent occupied and does not include any low-income units, the firm said. Average rent is $1,245 a month for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,495 for a two-bedroom, M&M Management said.

Gordon also said M&M Management uses union labor when possible and employed union carpenters for the Rita Grace rebuild.

O’Neill was skeptical of the company’s pledge to build luxury apartments. He said the project would fit better in a neighborhood like Northern Liberties, where there has been a building boom in recent years.

“You just don’t get that kind of rent in this area,” he said.

O’Neill said he would support just about any commercial or light industrial use for the property. Single-family residential development, including townhomes and twins, would also be welcome, he said.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Northeast was inundated with new apartment complexes that hurt the area, O’Neill said.

Apartments “don’t add anything to the community, and the zoning is there to protect the community from that happening again,” he said.

Gordon and Duszak said M&M Management plans to “see the process through,” even if they don’t have the support of O’Neill and civic leaders.

The next step for the company is to submit its plans to Civic Design Review, a city committee that reviews large building projects and makes recommendations. They are hoping to make a presentation in April, Gordon said.

The project will also need a zoning variance because the property is currently designated for single-family residential use.

Gordon said he plans on going back to the Millbrook Civic Association to talk about the proposal. He accused O’Neill of setting him up at the January meeting, suggesting it might have been a way for the councilman to score political points.

“I was railroaded,” Gordon said.

O’Neill, who previously called the project “probably the most serious zoning case I’ve had in 39 years,” said he made his objections to the project known to Gordon’s attorney prior to the meeting. ••

Jack Tomczuk can be reached at jtomczuk@newspapermediagroup.com