At Wednesday night’s community zoning meeting at Cione Recreation Center, representatives from the Olde Richmond Civic Association told members of the community that the civic was not ready to vote on a community benefits agreement proposed by the development team for the proposed residential project at 2501 Hagert St. The lot, which is the site of a former galvanization plant, has been nicknamed the Galvo by residents. Galvanization is a procedure in which a zinc coating, which protects against metal and rust, is applied to iron or steel by lowering it into a pool of molten zinc.
The development team is led by the property owner, Hagert Investment Group, which has proposed 27 single family homes with 32 accompanying parking spaces on the lot. The development group’s previous proposal, which was shot down in a vote by residents, featured a 35-unit residential complex with two- and three-family units, along with 32 parking spaces.
The Galvo was the subject of a 2012 environmental site assessment, which found excessive levels of arsenic, Banzo pyrene, cadmium, nickel and lead. Neighbors are concerned these contaminants could make it into other parts of the neighborhood if the building is demolished in an improper way that leaves the surrounding area vulnerable.
ORCA president Rosemary Thomas, who said the CBA had been sent to the civic two days prior to the meeting by the development team’s zoning attorney, Adam Laver, seemed to hint that the development team and the civic were pretty far apart on CBA negotiations.
“Not much of what we requested made it into [the CBA],” Thomas said at the meeting. “From my read, it’s really an outline of what they’re already required to do plus a little bit more.”
The following requests made by ORCA were not included in the CBA, according to Thomas:
- An escrow fund created by the developer to pay for necessary remediation in the event the development team decides to abandon the project mid-demolition or mid-construction. The purpose of this clause would be to make sure the site wouldn’t end up as “an open dirt pit of contaminated soil” in the event the team abandons the project, Thomas said.
- Money for the civic to hire a third-party environmental firm to monitor the demolition process.
- Air monitoring that’s “as close to real time as possible,” said Thomas.
- No basements would be built in any of the houses; in the plans shown at the meeting by Kevin O’Neill, the development team’s architect, each single-family home on the lot has a basement that’s about half the footprint of the home.
- An outline of which parts of the building will be demolished by hand and which parts will be done with machinery.
Thomas did say that requests, including a reduction of multi-family units and no construction work on weekends, both did make it into the CBA.
“We hear you loud and clear about the concerns of environmental contaminants coming off the site,” said Laver at the meeting. “We all know what used to occur at this site.”
Laver told residents the building would be demolished from the inside out so any dust and debris would be contained within the building until the walls and roof were taken down.
He also said that the owners of Hagert Street Investment group would apply for Pennsylvania’s Act II program, which encourages the voluntary cleanup and reuse of contaminated commercial and industrial sites.
“It’s almost like a seal of endorsement from the state that we have reached a certain level of compliance, which is not required,” said Laver, who said the “endorsement” would cost the developers close to $150,000. “That is…an example of going above and beyond to make this work not only for the homes on that site, but for all of you who live close by.”
Currently, the project is set to go in front of the city’s zoning board tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. However, the civic requested a continuance to allow more time to work on the CBA. In response to the continuance, the development team proposed a “creative solution,” Laver said, to the civic. Instead of continuing the hearing, Laver explained, the development team could go through with Wednesday’s meeting, but not have the zoning board issue a decision and make it aware that the two sides are working on a CBA. Then, following the hearing, the two sides would hold another open public hearing dIscussing the CBA “in a reasonable amount of time that lets us try to work this out,” Laver said. After that, the development team would head back to the zoning board – regardless of whether or not the two sides agreed to a CBA – and allow the ZBA to make its decision.
“It will certainly be a better situation for everyone, I think, if we can reach that point of agreement” on the CBA, Laver said, noting his client’s incentive to work out a CBA.
ORCA, however, didn’t go for the proposal.
“We would rather go with the continuance,” Thomas told the Star in a followup phone interview the day after the meeting. “It just felt like continuing [the meeting] gives us more time and less pressure to negotiate the CBA.”
According to an email Philadelphia Licenses and Inspections commissioner David Perri sent to Thomas, who later forwarded it to the Star, L&I is willing to have frequent inspections of the site in excess of its normal routine.
“[B]ut we cannot dedicate an inspector to be there full time whenever work is occurring,” Perri wrote. He added that the city’s health department is also “committed to enhanced inspections.”
According to Karen Guss, L&I spokeswoman, the agency’s “normal routine” for a project the Galvo’s size would be one inspection per week.
“Because of the tight working conditions, the combination of mechanical and hand demolition methods and the monitoring the developer is required to conduct due to concerns about contamination,” Guss told the Star in an email, “inspections will be performed at least 3 times per week until the building is taken down to a safe height.”
The civic is also concerned about the CBA’s ability to be enforced.
“Currently, it says we’d have to get an injunction from the court every time they break it,” said Thomas. “That’s not realistic.”
Thomas said she was hoping for a way to be able to fine the development team at a to-be-determined amount in the event it violates the CBA.
“That’s a more direct impact on them compared to us going through this court process,” said Thomas. Thomas said that talks with the development team, however, have been ongoing.
“We have been working with [Laver],” she said. “We’ve had very open conversations. We’ve been very respectful and we want to come to a mutually agreeable situation.”
At the meeting, Laver expressed a keen desire to keep working on the CBA until both sides agree, and was optimistic it would happen.
“We want to work with you,” he said. “That’s why we’re here.”