Developmental roadblocks

Development in South Philly continues to surge with a force rivaling a fastball at a Phillies game.

Contributing to this boom is 27-year-old David Killian, a developer who is planning to construct two local housing complexes this year.

One of these luxury developments includes 12 houses that would rest on the former site of Trinity Christian Elementary School, 19th and Porter streets.

Yet, two Girard Estate residents would like more guarantees that the project, titled Trinity Estates, is up to par with city regulations.

After the Zoning Board of Adjustments gave the green light to the plan on March 30, the residents filed an appeal in Common Pleas Court aimed at thwarting the construction.

"Demolition was going to begin in May," said Killian, president of Killian Properties. "Right now, this could run into Christmas and that would really interrupt people’s lives."

At a zoning board meeting in March, Killian said two residents expressed their concerns about the project, which included a tree that sits on Garnet Street and a house that abuts the existing edifice.

Killian said his company has tried to appease the residents’ requests, during and after the hearing. Yet, three weeks after the zoning board’s approval, the developer received an appeal notice in the mail.

"We tried to iron out the issues. We’re trying to give them what they ask for," Killian said. "As soon as we give them what they ask for, they come back with 10 more issues."

At the root of this dilemma is a tree on the school’s property on Garnet Street. Frank Callahan, one of the residents appealing the decision, noted the tree has historical significance and he does not want to see it damaged during construction.

The tree is under the custody and control of the Fairmount Park Commission, noted Callahan, of the 2400 block of South Garnet Street.

The Fairmount Park Commission is the trustee of all street trees, said Barry Bessler, chief of staff for the commission. He added that he did not know of the issue personally or the historic nature of the tree.

"I don’t know the condition of the tree or if it has been inspected by a Fairmount Park arborist. Until that [happens], it is hard to give an accurate assessment of the future of the tree," Bessler said. "Any time any activity goes on, not [with] this tree specifically, [but] in general, in regards to any street tree, if a street tree could potentially be impacted by adjacent or nearby construction every necessary available protection has to be made by the contractor for the tree or trees."

The resident said he primarily filed the appeal after not seeing "detailed plans" of the development, originally promised by Killian’s company at the zoning board meeting.

"I waited 27 days for the detailed plans but never got them," said Callahan.

The developer said the plans were at the hearing.

"The time and place to see those plans were at the community meeting," responded Killian, who noted the two residents were at ease after the hearing -wishing him luck and shaking his hand.

While Callahan supports the project, he said he wants the developers to "get it right"- referring to notice of refusal permits administered in February to Killian’s business by the Department of Licenses and Inspections for failure to meet building requirements tied to the project.

"If someone is going to be paying $450,000 for a house and they’re getting 1,057 square feet [of land] when they’re required to have 1,440 square feet, that’s not getting their money’s worth," said Callahan. "They’re also trying to put four-story buildings on a 12-foot wide street."

Killian noted his company has come into compliance with the required regulations imposed by L&I.;

GIRARD ESTATE AREA Residents and "99 percent" of the neighborhood are supporting the new homes, said Jody Della Barba, the group’s president. The homes will range in price from $450,000 to $525,000.

"I would not support a project unless the majority of the neighborhood is in favor of it," she said. "If for one minute I thought that it would harm our neighborhood, I would be the first to file an appeal."

But Callahan, who is appealing the project, noted 38 residents on his block also have concerns about the new development.

Last winter, the community organized a meeting with Killian Properties to discuss the complex and address any community concerns.

A housing complex was deemed the most feasible option at the site, said Della Barba.

"If it was turned into another school, we would be inundated with traffic," she said. "If it was a charter school, it would further hurt our neighborhood school, St. Monica’s. Residential seems like the way to go on that property."

The plan calls for the planting of 12 trees – four each on Porter, 19th and Garnet streets – as well as ample lighting near a darkened corner at 19th and Porter streets where two gunpoint robberies occurred last year, Della Barba said.

"Anybody who lives on 19th Street should be doing a tap dance," she added.

GEAR drafted a letter of support to the zoning board after Killian Properties came into compliance with L&I; regulations.

According to Killian, he met with an attorney representing Vincent Santasiera-whose house is next to the property- to discuss a settlement due to damages at Santasiera’s property.

Santasiera’s lawyer, Arthur Rabelow, said his client is not looking for compensation but is merely concerned about the safety of his property during construction.

Killian said he met with Santasiera to discuss ways of safeguarding the dwelling. Rabelow said he was "unaware of the conversation."

Meanwhile, Killian is keeping busy with a second development, dubbed Rosa Court at Federal and Juniper streets. Construction is set to begin in July at the site, which originally housed the Rosa Foods Products Co. warehouse. The 17 new dwellings will sell for $495,000 each and include individual driveways large enough to accommodate two cars, said Killian.

Calling the residents’ appeal "frivolous," Della Barba hopes the matter will be resolved in a timely fashion.

"I hope these individuals come to their senses and realize they are not only stopping development but stopping progress in our community," she said.