A house at 318 E. Durham Street is the subject of a dispute between neighbors and a developer who wants to tear it down to make way for an 8-unit apartment complex. (Photo by Brendan Sample)

by Brendan Sample

With an eight-unit apartment building proposed for their block, Durham Street residents are rallying together to preserve the existing single-family house at 318 East Durham. The neighbors are concerned that the new building will not only lead to further traffic and stormwater management problems, but will also negatively affect the aesthetic look of the area.

The developer behind the proposal, Galman Group, owns not only the existing house, which it has rented out since 2013, but also the surrounding Sedgwick Station apartment complex. In addition to attempting to reach a solution with the neighbors, Galman is also looking to gain variances from the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment, as its initial application resulted in the Department of Licenses and Inspections issuing multiple refusals.

One of the biggest problems that neighbors have with the proposed apartment building is the negative impact it could have on local traffic. As the area is located next to the Sedgwick Station on SEPTA’s Regional Rail, congested traffic in the area is already a problem, with commuters getting on and off the train throughout the day. If eight additional apartment units are added to East Durham, it could add to the congestion.

Additionally, a structure with a greater size and surface area than the existing house could prove detrimental to the issues of stormwater management. While there are measures in place to control stormwater, including a downward sloping road at the existing apartment complex and a stormwater bumpout at the Sedgwick Station, neighbors are concerned that more steps would have to be taken to account for the new building offsetting those levels.

As of Nov. 2, 74 local residents had signed a petition in support of preserving the existing house. The issue will also be a topic of discussion at the Nov. 20 zoning meeting for the East Mt. Airy Neighbors.

One of the neighbors who has been crucial in organizing this movement against the developers is East Durham resident Kelly O’Day. In addition to gathering signatures for the petition, O’Day has also gathered information regarding the proposed complex, including copies of relevant documents, and posted them online at www.mtairy.me

“This next meeting is absolutely crucial,” O’Day said. “East Durham Street is a quiet residential street … and we are continuing our fight to say no to this demolition.”

This meeting will allow the two sides to engage in direct discussions, as Galman was unable to have a representative present at a previous EMAN meeting on Oct. 2 when the issue was also discussed.

“We will do our best to address the various community concerns at the next meeting,” said Galman attorney Thomas Chapman. “I’m not sure what the current odds are that this complex actually gets built, but if we can work out an agreement with the community, that will go a long way toward getting this approved.”

The refusals in question that Galman will need variances for are that the area is zoned as RSA-3, specifically for single-family housing, at least 10 parking spaces need to be added, 50 percent of the space needs to be designated as an open area and the rear yard depth must be 20 feet or more. The plans that Galman submitted for the apartment complex list no new parking spaces, only 10 percent of the space designated as an open area and no rear yard depth. With its ZBA hearing scheduled for Jan. 9, Galman is hoping that the board will approve what it views as a reasonable project.

“There’s no getting around these refusals,” Chapman said. “Galman sees this project as an extension of the existing apartment complex, which I feel is a reasonable point of view from their perspective.”

Brendan Sample can be reached at brendan@chestnuthilllocal.com

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