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Judge Denies Injunction Against Bunting House Demo

Giovannone Construction may proceed with plans to make a vacant lot at 5901-09 Ridge Ave.

After more than two-month layover, a Roxborough developer can begin demolition at 5901 Ridge Ave.

In a ruling Tuesday, Motions Court Judge Idee Fox denied neighborhood civic associations' request to halt demolition at the Bunting House, an historical (but not registered) Victorian home, allowing Giovannone Construction to create a vacant lot at the corner of Ridge and Roxborough Avenues.

The Central Roxborough Civic Association led a charge by neighborhood groups to preserve the home formerly owned by Dr. Ross Hunting, a noted physician in the early 20th century, who is buried across the street at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.

In September, property owners Anthony and Frank Giovannone secured permits to demolish the Bunting House, along with 5905, 5907 and 5909 Ridge Ave.,  The Roxborough-based company, Giovannone Construction slowly acquired the four corner lots, in addition to 510 Roxborough Ave., for over $1 million and attempted to market the area to commercial developers. Frank later testified in court that corporate clients were not interested in developing the existing land, as is, so clearing the property made the most sense.

When neighbors learned that home was destined for the wrecking ball, they began an online petition to preserve the home and filed appeals with the Court of Common Pleas, the Department of Licenses and Inspections, and the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The Giovannones agreed to a 30-day period to allow the Roxborough Development Corporation and Councilman Curtis Jones' office a chance to devise alternate strategies. That period extended into November.

Frank Giovannone testified in court Dec. 10 that bigger restaurant and bank chains were not interested in the property—neither was nearby Roxborough Memorial Hospital. 

After the Giovannones restated their intention to demolish the homes Nov. 30, the neighbors reinstated their appeals. On Dec. 4 the neighbors requested a Commerce Court judge grant an injunction until the city could review their appeal. That case was referred to Motions Court, where Judge Fox heard testimony Dec. 10.

Hal Schirmer, attorney for the neighbors, asserted the city erred in issuing demolition permits as "vacant lot" is not an official use. He argued that demolition should be put off until either the L&I Review Board and/or the ZBA could rule on it.

The city asserted, through its attorney Andrew Ross, that "vacant lot" is the absence of a zoning use, and that city employees correctly granted the Giovannones permits.

Carl Primerva, the property owners' lawyer, said that revoking the permits infringed on the Giovannones' constitutional property rights, and that every day the Bunting House stands, it exists as a liability for crime, homeless and fires. Primerva requested a $100,000 be posted by the civic associations if an injunction was granted.

During the hearing Monday, Fox questioned the Giovannones on how much they exhausted their commercial options. Additionally, she asked if they felt the home significant, which they said it wasn't.

She said that even if she did rule for the civic association, she most likely would required a bond—which CRCA President Ed Hotham previously said would be nearly impossible to post.

Joshua Cohen, special adviser for Councilman Jones, has discussed the Bunting Home at many civic association meetings over the past two weeks. Although he said it looked grim to preserve the home, there was a silver lining.

"One good thing to come out of this is how much neighbors rallied around this. I think enough people woke about and now there's a push to preserve some of these great architectural homes in Roxborough," he said.

Cohen had previously said he expected the Giovannones to quickly demolish the homes. 

The civic associations' appeals to the city still stand. Schirmer and Hotham didn't immediately return requests for comment, as to if the neighbors would drop them.

Kevin December 15, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Rich, no I didn't think that the neighborhood would win this one. Btw you still havent adressed why the property should be section 8; probably because you cant back up such a dick statement... I have actually been suggesting that a Popeyes or any fast food establishment would be a very successful development option for the property. Wether or not you agree with fast food moving onto that block of ridge, you can't deny that it will be wildly successful... section 8 housing on the other hand is a poor development choice for a property that cost the developer over $1M to obtain, Rich. Also, the new homes that they are building around lower ridge in this "renters paradise" are selling between 300-400k... Go find another bridge to hang out under troll
Kevin December 15, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Josh, they have a right to be angry at their elected officials when their officials fail them. Voicing frustration an anger at elected officials is an american tradition. I'm not saying you didn't do everything that you could legally do to help, but don't suggest that their anger is somehow misdirected; If you can't take the heat then you might want to consider another career path
Debbie Thomas December 15, 2012 at 03:48 PM
I completely agree with Michael and Kevin. The residents have a right to be angry over what happened. This scumbag developer continuously lied to the residents as well as the community groups trying to save the Bunting House. There were even offers to buy the home. But Giavannone Construction wanted an ugly, vacant lot to be there and now it is. I really do wish them all of the bad luck in the world with every project the do from this point forward.
Keith December 15, 2012 at 06:49 PM
It seems like Giovannone Construction wants to leave lower Roxborough the same way Barbera left upper roxborough "full of empty parking lots". May I suggest boycotting ALL of Giovannone Construction projects in the area till they learn some respect for the neighborhood and its people. Maybe the higher cost of doing business due to delays etc might be enlightening.
rich December 16, 2012 at 11:13 AM
Kevin, your taking this way to personal. I think were all going to see more and more of these historical homes demolished for 300- 400k homes that you seem to think is great for the neighborhood . I feel that our neighborhood is already over developed .I signed the petition to stop the demolition of this building and many other petitions over the years. Fighting development can be exhausting and stressful . I'm glad my company is relocating and we are moving far from Pennsylvania. Good luck with your battles. BTW its not called fast food, its good food fast..

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