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Zoning violations and community backlash thwart building plans

A developer who wants to level an old Philadelphia monastery to create a new apartment housing complex isn't having an easy time. The brownstone structures, including a chapel, garden and reflecting pool, haven't been used by nuns in more than 30 years.

Preservation advocates along with local zoning regulations and regulators have created a roadblock for the Jenkintown developer's plans so far. The proposal is to tear down the structures at Corinthian Street and Girard Avenue and replace them with more than 40 residential apartments or condos in two separate buildings.

The Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia and neighborhood residents have come out against the idea of replacing the old religious home with such structurally different residences. One Alliance member said the planned multi-unit development is a congested replacement that is "out of character" and style with the current buildings in the area.

The developer has applied for several zoning variances and has introduced the prospective building plans to mostly unwelcoming members of the community. The Department of Licenses and Inspections has already shot down one permit saying the proposal doesn't live up to local zoning codes.

The government agency says the new housing plans violate city zoning codes for being too tall and not including a back yard. Next week, the Zoning Board of Adjustment will review the developer's application to build.

The religious home was abandoned in 1977 when the Poor Clare nuns who once lived there left to take up residence in a new Langhorne location. The overgrown grounds and decaying structures still include old carvings and stone benches used when the nuns were in residence.

Source: Philly.com, "Effort to develop former monastery in Philadelphia is met with opposition," Miriam Hill, 5 July 2011

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