After months of speculation, city officials confirmed Wednesday night that developers are seeking to locate a Wendy's fast food restaurant at the site of a demolished historic house.
In recent days, a website — www.roxboroughwendys.com — has appeared. It touts the advantages of locating the fast food merchant in the Ridge Avenue business corridor. Operated by an entity known as "5901 Ridge, LLC," contact information on the page leads only to a general email inbox or a P.O. Box address in Roxborough.
On Wednesday night, Joshua Cohen of Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.'s staff confirmed at a meeting of the Wissahickon Interested Citizen's Association that the website belongs to Anthony Giovannone who, along with his brother Frank, owns the former Bunting House property at the intersection of Ridge Avenue and Roxborough Avenue.
The website claims that the proposed 3,200 square foot restaurant would create more than 50 jobs, pay thousands of dollars in taxes to the city and bring "new food choices to the Roxborough retail corridor." The restaurant would feature outdoor seating among other amenities.
The Giovannones were not immediately available for comment late Wednesday evening, but the website offered a message: "This project is being designed with its neighbors in mind — respect for the community and the environment is a priority."
That a Wendy's could be located at the former Bunting House site is hardly a new notion.
In March, the Giovannones faced the Central Roxborough Civic Organization, hoping both to quell conjecture and field questions about possibilities for the site.
At the time, the brothers said that despite neighborhood rumors that transformed into an online petition campaign against a Wendy's, they had no agreement in place with that restaurant or any other chain.
However, at the time they said that a preliminary plan was filed with the city Planning Commission indicating a generic fast-food use on the property, which includes 5901 through 5909 Ridge Ave.
The Giovannones said several ideas for fast-food or quick-service restaurants such as Wendy's, Panera Bread and Chipotle were discussed in a series of meetings with civic representatives and the Roxborough Development Corporation.
Frank Giovannone said in March that he was also approached by "cash for gold" and pawn-shop operators, but were not interested in these types of business.
Support and opposition
While the crowd who came out to the March meeting was unanimous in opposition to a fast-food drive through on the site, many expressed support for it on internet forums. As of Thursday morning, more than 250 people had "liked" the Roxborough Wendy's Facebook page. (The Roxborough Residents Against Wendy's page on Facebook has more than 350 likes.)
In addition, representatives of the proposed restaurant were said to be circulating Roxborough to cull support from residents for the establishment and its developers.
Asked for comment after the meeting, Cohen said that the councilman's office will wait to get further neighborhood response before weighing in.
Via their website, the Giovannones related that they have filed plans with the city to begin the application process for the restaurant.
The developers expressed an interest in meeting with local residents, businesspeople and civic groups in the next several weeks "to talk about the plan and collect feedback."
Matt Wysong, an official with the City Planning Commission present at the meeting, said that in order for developers to secure zoning approval for a drive-through window, they will have to obtain what's known as a "special exception" from the city.
Under this process, there is a need for community-based review, but Wysong described approval as being much easier to obtain than in the more-typical zoning variance process.
Wysong said that the community must establish that the drive-thru would have an adverse effect on the neighborhood for it not to be approved. Because of its location on a central business corridor, he predicted that neighbors would face a challenge in establishing that.
On Wednesday, WICA leader Chip Roller pledged to collaborate with other civic associations in order to prevent the fast-food chain from entering Roxborough.
"There's a very good chance that we can stop this and get somebody in there who has some vision," said Roller. "A Wendy's on Ridge Avenue would be horrendous."