Neighbors Win Battle With Developer over Historic Roxborough Property

After a 12-month battle, members of the Roxborough community and neighbors of 365 Green Lane are breathing a little easier as they head into 2015. The historic property has been mired in controversy since developer Todd Joseph purchased the home in Dec. 2013.

The battle surrounding the property came to an end earlier this month when Roger Ross, a 34-year-old Wissahickon native and Roxborough resident, bought the nearly 150-year-old property.

Sitting on the corner of Green Lane and Manayunk Avenue, the Victorian home has served as an iconic "gateway" between the neighborhoods of Manayunk and Roxborough for years.

The original plan

When Joseph purchased the home a year ago, he was planning to demolish the house and develop eight units on the property.

The community was up in arms at the plan. A 2012 move by the Philadelphia Planning Commission remapped the zoning of larger single-residence homes such as 365 Green Lane.

Under the updated zoning map the house, also known as the Benjamin Kenworthy House, was designated with an RSD-3 code, certifying its use as a single-family dwelling.

Though Joseph was fully disclosed to the home's development restrictions, he continued to press for the property's demolition so he could move forward with

To the community, the case was indicative of a scenario that was becoming all too familiar — beautiful historic homes being destroyed to make way for quick and garish development. The most notorious of these is the Bunting House, on the corner of Ridge and Roxborough Avenues, which was demolished in Dec. 2012. Two years later the land remains a vacant lot.

In a July interview, Kay Sykora, longtime resident of Green Lane and the director of the Manayunk Development Corporation's Destination Schuylkill program explained why preserving homes such as the Benjamin Kenworthy house has become so crucial.

"Many of us have chosen to live in these houses because of the physical character they represent," Sykora said. "When you tear down portions and throw completely unrelated types of housing in, it destroys that character, it tears away the historical fabric of the community. We have no problem with the newer housing, but not at the expense of the older community."

A fear of neglect

In response to the community's backlash, Joseph, who purchased the home for $200,100, put the property back on the market — initially asking for $379,000 despite the home falling into further neglect since his purchase.

Many in the community feared Joseph was allowing the home to unravel into a state of unsalvageable disrepair. If that occurred, the zoning board might grant him a financial hardship, allowing him to demolish the structure.

So in an effort to save the Kenworthy House, local residents Celeste Hardester and John Manton, with support from neighbors and the CRCA, wrote an official proposal to the city's Historical Commission to nominate the home for historical designation.

In a letter to owner Todd Joseph, dated Sept. 30, the commission announced that the proposal was under consideration, and until a decision was reached no further demolition of the property could occur.

Following the announcement, a series of negotiations ensued. Though Joseph came back willing to preserve the property's fore-structure, he still wanted to build units on the back. The neighbors were simply not willing to settle, and eventually Joseph negotiated a sale with Ross.

A new owner steps in

Ross — in addition to owning a successful plumbing and heating company — has rehabilitated and sold over 20 houses in Roxborough over the last three years. Ross shared in a letter to the CRCA that he had been attempting to purchase the property for several months, but was unwilling to match Joseph's original asking price.

"This building has sentimental value to me. I took piano lessons here as a child; so did my brother William," says Ross. "I took on this project not necessarily to make money — I want to make my neighborhood a great place to live."

Ross says he will attend upcoming Central Roxborough Civic Association meetings to answer any questions and concerns the community may have and is open to having the house officially designated as historic once renovations are complete.

For neighbors, the situation is as ideal as they could imagine.

"It took a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication from many people, but this has been a productive process and inadvertently a great community builder as well," says Sykora.

Ross plans to preserve the home as a single-family dwelling. A "great house" where perhaps he, his wife and their two sons could eventually live.

"If only I can convince my wife," he adds, "I will approach this house as I do everything in life. As someone who is loyal to where I grew up, where I came from and where I work."

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