Kevin Keene, head of WMAN’s Neighborhood Transformation Committee, served as moderator.
On Dec. 6, West Mt. Airy Neighbors (WMAN) hosted a Zoom meeting in which Tom Fameletti of Zatos Investments, developer of the former JoaMart at the corner of W. Hortter and McCallum, met with leaders of the JoaMart Ad Hoc Committee, a group of concerned neighbors who have been protesting the site.
Kevin Keene, head of WMAN’s Neighborhood Transformation Committee, served as moderator. Introductions set the tone with Fameletti being accompanied by his contractor, architect and his lawyer Meredith Feleger.
The meeting started with the architect from Canno Designs presenting renderings of a four-story, 24-unit, beige brick building with balconies extending over the W. Hortter Street side of the complex. The building will contain studio, one bedroom and two-bedroom apartments and a 4,000 sq. ft. retail space on the ground floor without any off-street parking.
Only three of the twenty-four apartments will be “affordably priced” and there will be a green roof, which is what the zoning code requires the developer to provide in exchange for the addition of a fourth floor. The building will also provide private roof decks for tenants living on the top floor.
Neighbors said they think four stories is too high, and would like to see it go no higher than three.
Darlene M. Temple and her husband Marq Temple, who reside in a property immediately adjacent to the development site, expressed concern about noise caused by roof deck gatherings. Fameletti dismissed their concern. “Each roof deck is only large enough for a few people. There will be no large gatherings,” he said.
When area residents remarked that the design of the building and materials used do not blend in with the architectural character of the neighborhood, the architect countered, “this is something new and it’s a beautiful design.”
In response to concern about a four-story building over-shadowing surrounding properties, Canno Design presented graphics showing the amount of shadow cast by the proposed building at 1:30 p.m. at each of the four solstices. It did not go unnoticed that the time of day displayed was when shadows are at their shortest.
When neighbors expressed concern about the lack of parking Fameletti again deflected. “Parking is an issue in all parts of Philadelphia,” he said, “And many of the tenants will be coming from nearby apartment buildings.”
Real estate attorney Ralph Pinkus, who chairs WMAN’s Zoning Committee, asked where the loading dock will be for the retail tenant. “In the rear, off of McCallum,” said Fameletti. To anyone familiar with the blind curve at McCallum and W. Hortter, the addition of regular deliveries so close to the corner presents a potential hazard for both drivers and pedestrians. In addition, the only entrance to the building for tenants, as well as their deliveries, is also located on McCallum, right at the corner in contention.
None of these concerns or objections were new to the developer who had heard them all the previous week when they were presented by Councilwoman Cindy Bass. Fameletti made only two concessions. He expressed willingness to join forces with the community to ask the City to mitigate speeding on W. Hortter. He also promised to save all trees on adjacent properties, in addition to adding greenery to the street. However, these compromises did not appease the primary concerns of community members.
“This is going to bring a lot of trouble to our community and if there was anything I could do to change it, I would,” said Marguerite Nicholson-Schenk who lives just four houses from the development. “I’m dreading the chaos it will bring. I’ve lived here since 1995 and have enjoyed the openness which will be taken away because of your build.”
Attorney Beverly Penn, co-chair of the JoaMart Ad Hoc Committee, asked a final question. “Would you be open to trying something different – building a green space and having a park named in your honor?”
Not surprisingly, the developer and community members came away with conflicting perceptions. “Overall, I think the meeting went well,” said Fameletti. “The neighbors were able to relay their concerns, questions, and opinions and we, as the development team, sought to address all of their questions and concerns as substantively as possible.”
“I had no expectation that the developer would be amenable to changing his plans to address any of our concerns and recommendations,” said Penn, whose prior efforts to meet with Fameletti since last June never materialized. “He (Fameletti) waited until the last minute, after having acquired all of the construction approvals and permits to meet with us, so his plans are essentially set in stone.”
However, Penn is going forward. “I think some of the challenges all of us are going to be facing will have to be brought to the governments' attention as they arise during construction and once we're living with the consequences of this thoughtless structure,” she said. Penn is planning on making the recorded version of this first Zoom meeting available to the wider community.