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Upper Holmesburg group discusses future of Liddonfield property

By William Kenny

Times Staff Writer

A few people gathered around each of five maps depicting potential improvements to a variety of public locations in Upper Holmesburg.

Meanwhile, dozens of folks flocked to a rendering of the former Liddonfield Homes site, curious to find out what the Philadelphia Housing Authority has planned for the recently demolished public housing project.

The future of the Liddonfield property has been a hot topic among neighborhood residents in recent weeks as the City Planning Commission and the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association continue a trailblazing "neighborhood planning" process.

During the monthly general meeting of UHCA, residents were given an open-house-style presentation of the latest ideas for the neighborhood.

PHA still owns the 32-acre Liddonfield site, at Torresdale Avenue and Megargee Street, and intends to build new housing on about 12 of those acres at the northwestern end of the property, according to an agency document titled Redevelopment Principles for Liddonfield Homes.

The remaining 20 acres would be reserved for recreational uses. Philadelphia Sports Zone, a proposed indoor-outdoor multi-sports facility, is believed to be the leading candidate to occupy the recreational space.

The same PHA document — which the agency showed publicly for the first time at last week's meeting — proclaims that "new development should blend with the neighborhood," that "streets should connect through the development," that development should "include park, play and community space" and that it should "utilize green building technologies."

Two key questions were left unanswered: Will PHA build government-subsidized housing for low-income people, and how many housing units does the agency plan to build? While a majority of neighbors oppose low-income housing, some may be willing to accept the idea if age restrictions are applied. That is, some neighbors may not mind senior-citizen housing, according to UHCA president Stan Cywinski.

"Some will say 'absolutely no low-income,' and some will say 'low-income for seniors only,'" Cywinski said.

"My message to (PHA) is we don't want another 'project.' We want a neighborhood."

Other area residents don't want any new housing at all.

"I'm very disappointed with what their plans are for the twelve acres," said Bob Hall, a UHCA board member. "People who live there have told me that they don't want housing there."

Ian Litwin, a city planner who is overseeing the Upper Holmesburg planning project, said that PHA, as the city's overseer of public housing, is required to offer affordable housing in all areas of the city. But the size, density and configuration of that housing could take any of many different forms, Litwin said.

Nothing specific has been proposed for the residential portion, he added.

From an urban design standpoint, more than 100 rowhouse-type units could fit into the 12 acres, but PHA has not proposed that scenario, Litwin said.

Funding is another central issue. Federal money for new public housing development has been in short supply for years. Meanwhile, PHA has already failed in efforts to partner with private developers at Liddonfield. There is no active request for proposals for the site.

"The reality is, the market is not there," Cywinski said. "There's nothing on the table right now."

• In unrelated business, the civic association heard from City Council candidate Bob Henon, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in the 6th district. Longtime Councilwoman Joan Krajewski's term will expire in January. She is not running for re-election.

Henon, an official with Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is running against former city school board member Marty Bednarek for the nomination.

Henon said his priorities will be to keep businesses in the city, thereby protecting the city's tax base; improve education; and advocate for public safety. He is endorsed by the city's police and firefighter unions. As political director for Local 98, Henon said he has "experience dealing with elected officials on local, state and national levels on both sides of the aisle to create jobs."

Henon said he opposes the city's DROP retirement-incentive program because it has "been abused too many times." Krajewski, facing mandatory retirement three years ago under program policies, relied on a city solicitor's recommendation that she "retire" for a day to collect about $275,000 in DROP benefits and return to Council for  a new term and collect her salary.

• The next Upper Holmesburg  meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 21, at St. Dominic's Marian Hall, 8532 Frankford Ave.