Neighbors object to a developer’s plans to tear down this home at 318 E. Durham St. to make way for an 8-unit apartment building and leasing office.

by Pete Mazzaccaro

A proposal by Galman Group to raze a single-family house at 318 E. Durham St. and replace it with a new, eight-unit apartment building and leasing office was rejected by the zoning committee of East Mt. Airy Neighbors on Tuesday, January 7.

Galman Group has owned the home in question since 2010 and has rented it out since then. It also owns the expansive Sedgwick Station Apartments, a more than 90-unit complex adjacent to the 318 E. Mt. Airy property. The Jenkintown-based company is seeking a use variance from the city because the property’s zoning (RSA-3) allows for single family attached and semi-detached homes but not multi-family units.

Kelly O’Day, an East Mt. Airy Neighbors board member and near neighbor, said residents were opposed to Galman’s plan for a number of reasons, but primarily that the multi-unit complex would add significant scale and density to the site.

“We are opposed to the size and the scale of what’s there now,” he said. “There are criteria required to get a variance, and Galman’s plan doesn’t meet those criteria.”

O’Day cited seven areas where the plan failed to meet the criteria for a variance, most importantly that the developer did not demonstrate a hardship, the principal rationale for getting a zoning variance under most circumstances. Other considerations included traffic issues, storm water runoff and the removal of trees.

Furthermore, O’Day argued the house has historic value in that it was built in 1901 by Ashton Tourison, a man responsible for developing much of East Mt. Airy and its historic Sedgwick Farms in the early 20th century. The neighborhood was identified as deserving protection in the recent Philadelphia 2035 planning process by the Philadelphia Planning Commission. While there’s a long way to go to create a historic district for Sedgwick Farms, O’Day argued that some protection should be afforded to properties based on their potential.

“If we just let all of these propertied get developed before they have a chance, there won’t be any left,” he said.

Galman Group’s attorney, Thomas Chapman, said the company had listened to the neighbors’ complaints and were discussing how to proceed. He noted that they had a prior plan for the property rejected by EMAN last year and had come back with what they thought would be a more acceptable version.

“Galman takes the comments and concerns of the neighbors seriously,” Chapman said. “Those concerns are being discussed.”

Chapman said the Zoning Board of Adjustments hearing for the proposal had been continued to April 7 and that he expected Galman to return to EMAN with plan revisions.

“It’s in [Galman’s] best interests to go back to the community,” he said.

Pete Mazzaccaro can be reached at 215-248-8802 or pete@chestnuthilllocal.com

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