Letter: Center City style apartment buildings don’t belong in our community


Correction: The print version of this letter incorrectly stated that this proposed building is five stories.

Can a person hold two competing emotions simultaneously? The answer is yes. I hold both rage and despair when I think about the future of my block, my neighborhood and my community once a four story multi-family monstrosity is constructed at the corner of McCallum and West Hortter Streets next year. Some may say the word monstrosity is an exaggeration of what will be built on this corner. I don’t think so. Look it up. It means “something, especially a building, that is very large and is considered unsightly; something that is outrageously or offensively wrong.” This is the very definition of the proposed project to be built by Zatos LLC at W. Hortter and McCallum Streets.

The plan as posted on the property on Monday, November 15th is a four story multi-family structure with a commercial space on the ground floor. This project is what is called “by-right” because this parcel is zoned CMX-2 under the Philadelphia Zoning Code, or commercial mixed-use.

No one in our community objects to the classification of this parcel. It has been a commercial space for the 30 years that I’ve resided in this neighborhood and I suspect that everyone has wondered what would replace the defunct Joa Mart Market. However, no one could have imagined a four story multi-family property with roof decks (there are no roof decks anywhere in West Mount Airy) that will block the light, air and view for all the near neighbors, create new noise issues especially during the months when the weather permits use of the roof decks, and will create any number of anticipated and perhaps unknown problems for the rest of the community (additional traffic congestion, increased parking problems on the surrounding blocks as well as for the neighbors on the north side of Lincoln Drive, changes in property values).

Anyone who knows this community knows that there are many multi-family buildings here. Within walking distance from this proposed construction there are probably five to seven multi-family properties. The difference between all of these buildings and the one that is coming is that each of these structures is built on a sizable parcel with setbacks from the sidewalk. All of these buildings, many built 50 to 100 years ago, have room for green space and allow for a sense of spaciousness and, dare I say, breathing room. This structure will be constructed on a very small parcel, only 10,000 square feet, and will be built right up to the edge of the sidewalk - there is no room for a setback.

There have been a number of changes in this neighborhood over the past thirty years. Neighbors have come and gone, new homes have been constructed, not always to everyone’s liking but still maintaining the overall feeling of the community. Now someone somewhere in Center City has decided that West Mt. Airy needs to look more like Center City? That we do not have sufficient “density” and should be creating more living spaces for more people?

I think I can safely say that no one moves to Mt. Airy, East or West, because they want to live in a dense neighborhood. People move here because they are looking for a suburban feeling, not an urban one. They want yards, trees, flowers and the ability to see more sun and sky than is possible when you are in many other neighborhoods. They want places where their children can safely walk to school.

And despite what some people may want, the majority of people that live in this community own and use their cars. Much of the City of Philadelphia is not accessible via public transportation because although SEPTA is nearby, it is rarely convenient. It doesn’t get you to many areas of the City unless you are willing to spend an hour or two waiting and riding on a bus and hoping that the line gets you somewhere close to where you want to go. Increased density only means more people standing on the regional rail line, and perhaps on the H bus, which takes more than thirty minutes to get to the Broad Street line and that’s in good weather, assuming you feel comfortable and safe riding the Broad Street Line thesall, we are just tax-paying citizens who have worked to sustain our community by maintaining our homes, working with our neighborhood Registered Community Organization (West Mt. Airy Neighbors) to ensure that our neighborhood remains a strong community. We support the small businesses that dot our communite days.

Had it not been for my neighbors’ daughter seeing Zatos’ posting on Instagram, we would never have known that this construction project was coming. After y and fit the description of a neighborhood commercial space, fitting into the local architecture.

Why should we as citizens have anything to say about the future of our community? Because if we do not, soon it will be someone else’s community and then where will we all be living? Will it still be the West Mt. Airy that generations have lived in and loved or will it become someplace else?

Beverly Penn, West Mt. Airy