A 15-unit mixed income development in Norris Square on the site of the former St. Boniface Church at Diamond and Hancock Sts., demolished last year, is the center in a vortex of heated debate between local residents and Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sanchez.

Construction site

Another angle

Now that the City Planning Commission voted 5-2 last month to approve Sanchez’s recently drafted bill to change the zoning in the area immediately surrounding the development from R10 to R10A, a residential zoning distinction that allows for the construction of only single-family dwellings, City Council will vote on the issue in the near future.

Construction permits have already been acquired, but leaders of the Norris Square Civic Association think Sanchez acted too quickly and failed to collect adequate community input. Tensions surfaced during the Planning Commission hearing last month about the councilwoman’s proposed legislation, according to the Daily News.

“While the NSCA project was the main reason, because of community concerns with parking and traffic safety,” Sanchez told Naked Philly, when asked why she moved for legislation now instead of waiting for the scheduled citywide zoning remapping that begins this August, “Norris Square should have been remapped to follow Northern Liberties and Fishtown. In August, without, remapping, when the new Zoning takes effect, there would be too much by right rules which go directly to the neighborhood concerns.”

The area referred to extends north to south from York to Norris, and from east to west from Front to Second.

“NSCA has been a civic, NAC and developer for many years,” said Sanchez about her comments at the hearing the NSCA lacked transparency in its operations. “As a resident, I have been concerned about their community process. In fact, in the last few years, I stopped attending their meetings because I did not feel they allowed for real input. Many of my neighbors feel the same way and do not attend.”

Does the neighborhood really want this development?

The 15-unit project is not threatened by this proposed ordinance, since NSCA already has zoning in place for it. NCSA insists that they got buy-in from the community for plans at this site, which they purchased from the Archdiocese in October, 2007. “We only purchased St. Boniface after we polled the community and had strong responses about what they wanted,” said Maria Camoratto, NSCA director of real estate.

Demolition seems to have always been part of the plans. Out of the 300 residents surveyed, the top four responses community members said about what they wanted to see at the site were employment job training/center (included in the plans), affordable housing, rec center and a charter school or educational facility, according to a timeline Camoratto provided NakedPhilly.

Former rectory next to construction site

St. Boniface was an ornate structure that looks as if it could have been in the Nutcracker set. Constructed in the late nineteenth-century, its interior was as pleasing to the eye as its exterior. But the demolition is done and the near $15M raised for the new development, which includes a community center and office space came from sources dedicated to opportunities for low income individuals project like these purport to benefit.

The NSCA was also awarded $5 M from the state Department of Economic and Community Development’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP). The RACP grant covers the cost of rehabilitations to the rectory, community center and school building as well as parking and green space improvements.

The funding and project will in all mean 30 new units. That includes 15 on the old St. Boniface site (5 of which were made possible through the NSP2 grant and five through the RACP), 10 on West Susquehanna (a project we already wrote about it, also funded by NSP2), and 5 scattered throughout Norris Square, according to Camoratto.

–Lou Mancinelli