Land next to Arbours discussed at Somerton meeting

Residents at the June 11 Somerton Civic Association meeting heard about a plot of land in limbo, dog bite dangers and a planned Calvary Chapel expansion.

Mailman and safety captain Sam Sicilia speaks to residents June 11 during the Somerton Civic Association meeting about the dangers of dogs to postal workers. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

Last week’s meeting of the Somerton Civic Association featured discussion on an overgrown plot of land next to a sprawling 55-and-older development, the issue of dogs attacking mail carriers and a proposed addition to a Philmont Avenue church.

When the Arbours at Eagle Pointe housing development was built on a portion of the former Philadelphia State Hospital site, a provision was included to preserve open space on Southampton Road along Carter Road.

Now, the land, which was supposed to act as a buffer between the Carter Road residents and the Arbours, has become an issue, and its fate is unclear.

Those who live near the development say it has not been maintained; one man at the June 11 meeting even called it “a jungle.”

Somerton Civic President Chris Bordelon said Westrum Development Company, which owns the property and built the Arbours, recently offered to donate the land to the civic association. Borderlon said he declined because the civic is not in the business of owning and caring for property.

Back in 2015, there was talk about Westrum handing the land over to the city, Bordelon said.

A Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation plan from 2013 included the area as a potential spot for a nature trail connecting Poquessing Creek Park and Benjamin Rush State Park.

Bordelon said he was told by Westrum that the city no longer is interested in acquiring the land.

Westrum representatives did not return a request for comment. 

Bordelon said he thought an agreement had been made between Westrum and the city to turn over the land, but Alice Udovich, of 10th District Councilman Brian O’Neill’s office, said the trail plan was just a proposal, not a firm commitment.

Udovich said Westrum has been unwilling to spend money on improvements that would allow the city to accept the land.

O’Neill told the Times after the meeting that the trail plan will not be happening because the neighbors don’t want it.

As for the maintenance of the land, O’Neill said Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP) sent a letter to Westrum late last week ordering the firm to cut the grass and weeds. If that is not done in a timely fashion, CLIP will do it and bill Westrum.

A spokesperson for Parks and Recreation said the department is focused on maintaining its existing network of trails and parks and did not comment specifically on the site.

“Acquisition of new land for trails and public use is a collaborative decision with significant input from the community, City Council, and Parks & Recreation, based on the benefit to the public and the City’s ability to maintain the land to a high quality over the long term,” the department said in a statement.

Bordelon said the SCA will revisit the issue of the open space next to the Arbours in the fall.

Representatives from the Bustleton post office spoke to residents about the dangers dogs pose to mail carriers.

Nearly 6,000 carriers are bitten every year. In 2018, there were 51 bites in Philadelphia, the third-highest total in the country, according to U.S. Postal Service’s website.

Sam Sicilia, a mailman and local safety captain, said carriers have had to use dog spray 10 times in Somerton since January. Normally, there are only four or five of those incidents in a year, he said.

USPS asks residents to put their dog in another room or use a leash when coming to the door to accept packages. Sicilia also suggested not allowing children to receive packages because dogs can become overly protective.

Using “beware of dog” signs and warning carriers of aggressive dogs on the block also helps keep postal workers safe, Sicilia said.

Residents at the meeting voted unanimously to support a zoning application allowing Calvary Chapel to build a 5,000-square-foot addition at its church at 13500 Philmont Ave.

Dan Rowley, an attorney for the church, said Calvary Chapel plans to enclose its existing patio in front of the main entrance. The space would be used for meeting and fellowship and include a coffee bar for church members, he said.

“These additions will not increase the size of the congregation and will not impact the parking on the property,” Rowley said.

A couple of residents said there are traffic and parking issues every Sunday, and they said some of the parishioners park illegally on the street instead of in the church lot. A Calvary Chapel representative acknowledged the problem.

Seventh District Community Relations Officer Joseph Staszak offered to do a roll call complaint to have police ticket cars in no-parking zones near the church.

In other news from the June 11 SCA meeting:

Civic members voted unanimously in support of a zoning permit to legalize the widening of a driveway at a home at 846 Centennial Square.

Staszak said two people were injured in a recent shooting at 10216 Bustleton Ave. It was a domestic incident, and an arrest was made, he said.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment on May 22 granted a 30-day continuance to a developer who wants to build twin homes at 11934 Stevens Road, Bordelon said. Twice, the developer’s attorney presented at the civic association, only for residents to vote overwhelmingly against the project both times.

SCA board members were expecting to see revised plans at the June 11 meeting, but nobody representing the property showed up. Bordelon said the civic would send a letter to the ZBA reflecting their absence.

The Somerton Civic Association and Bustleton Civic League will be hosting a meeting Thursday, June 27, at American Heritage Credit Union, 2060 Red Lion Road, to discuss developments at the former Budd Company site, 1 Red Lion Road. It will be in the evening, but no time has been set yet, Borderlon said.

The SCA’s next scheduled meeting will be held in September. ••

Jack Tomczuk can be reached at jtomczuk@newspapermediagroup.com