NewsWorks went back to check in on several of the stories it covered in 2012. These "What Happened Next" updates will run throughout December. 

What's next for Manayunk's abandoned eyesore on Venice Island? Jan. 12

The Story: As the year began, it had been nearly eight years since Carmella's restaurant, at 1 Leverington Ave. just off Main Street, closed. But the leftovers remained as the empty eatery building stood empty, an inviting target for graffiti artists, trash dumpers and partiers.

Dan Neduscin, who owns the property, told NewsWorks the property was vacant because of the Manayunk Neighborhood Council's long-running legal challenge to his plans to build apartments on the site.

In 2007, Neduscin received approval from the city zoning and planning boards for 270 apartments at the site. The MNC appealed, setting off a legal case that continues today.

What Happened Next: In February, the Department of Licenses and Inspections slapped a half-dozen violations on 1 Leverington Ave., for being an unsecured property, having too much trash and combustible materials and not maintaining a clear fire lane. All of those violations have been satisfied, city records show.

Much of the graffiti facing the Main Street side has been painted over, save for a few recently-added tags, and old awnings were removed. It's still empty, but a bit less ugly.

On the legal end, things remain as they are — at a legal impasse.

"Still lost in limbo," is how Kevin Smith of the Manayunk Neighborhood Council describes it. NewsWorks will continue to follow the case. (Amy Z. Quinn/for NewsWorks)

 

Germantown Settlement's remains help establish a charter school in Camden, June 27

The Story: After the 2011 collapse of Germantown Settlement, local developer Ken Weinstein stepped in to buy the former Germantown Settlement Charter School property, a six-acre campus at 4811 Germantown Ave. that was originally home to St. Michael of the Saints school, convent and chapel building.

Along with the run-down buildings, Weinstein also took possession of their contents, which included hundreds of school desks, along with books and a mountain of office equipment in various states of use and disuse.

Weinstein donated much of the school furniture to Foundations, Inc.'s City Invincible Charter School in Camden, and other local schools and non-profits benefitted from the office equipment and books.

In the former convent building, the New Directions for Women Inc. program has operated for more than 20 years, but their facility is badly in need of upgrades.

What Happened Next: Weinstein told NewsWorks his company, Philly Office Retail, has secured at least one new tenant for the campus and big things are about to begin.

In February, New Directions for Women clients and staff will move out temporarily while $400,000 in upgrades, including new electrical, HVAC and sprinkler systems, flooring and windows, and improved handicap accessibility are completed.

Also, Weinstein said the former chapel building will soon be home to Greatness Is In You!, an arts-based youth mentoring program where founder Kareem Rogers plans to open a performing arts center, drama school and camp. First, that building will get about $200,000 in improvements, Weinstein said.

In Camden, City Invincible Charter School held a groundbreaking ceremony earlier this month, and is scheduled to open next September serving students in kindergarten through fifth grade. (AZQ)

Germantown neighbors still awaiting resolution in long-running spite-blight case, Sept. 10

The Story: It's been more than a decade since Anthony R. Byrne last lived in the house he owns at 5357 Knox St. in Germantown's Penn-Knox section, yet he remains perhaps the most talked-about man in the neighborhood.

A long-running standoff between Byrne and his neighbors over the condition of his house, a once-stately but now decrepit stone home, has been at the heart of more than 11 years worth of complaints, violations, tax liens, Department of Licenses and Inspections citations, sporadic repairs and improvements and enough animosity to fill both Byrne's house and that of Julie Baranauskas, the next-door neighbor who shares a wall with the run-down property.

In September, Baranauskas and other neighbors were preparing to face Byrne in court for what was then the 14th hearing in a two-year-old lawsuit against the property owner brought by the Philadelphia Historical Commission.

What Happened Next: Aside from a few more court dates, not much.

Byrne, in his 80s and in ailing health, skipped a hearing in October, leading Judge Bradley K. Moss to impose more conditional fines and order more work done on the house.

Byrne appeared at the latest hearing, Dec. 6, but according to Baranauskas, it was more of the same, with him claiming neighbors were out to get him and Judge Moss continuing to use his carrot-and-stick approach to get some repairs made to the property.

The next scheduled hearing in the case is set for Jan. 17.

Meanwhile, neighbors say little if any additional repair work has been done on the house at 5357 Knox St. (AZQ)

 

Repair work on Midvale Ave. wall continues to stall as District cites funding as a possible hurdle, Oct. 2

The Story: Back in April, after receiving a complaint on SeeClickFix.com, NewsWorks began following the story of a deteriorating wall which sits just steps away from Thomas Mifflin Elementary School and the East Falls SEPTA train station, both highly traveled areas.

With boulder-like rocks both crumbling and falling onto the pavement, the wall has had East Falls residents highly concerned over the past nine months.

Initially, NewsWorks' calls prompted the School District to install a fence to prevent large rocks from falling onto pedestrians. The community has also found it difficult to walk around the fence safely as it blocks the sidewalk and forces pedestrians to walk or bike along bustling Midvale Avenue to get around it.

What Happened Next: The wall and the fence both continue to be a hazard to pedestrians. NewsWorks calls to the School District went unreturned.

In an October interview, Fernando Gallard, chief of communications for the School District of Philadelphia, said the District has not determined whether the wall can be fixed or if it will be knocked down.

"The whole situation is under review," he said. "There is no finding yet as to what we can do."

In regards to public danger, he said that the District has found it "sufficient" to surround the area with a fence as a preliminary solution. Gallard also stated that the school district may have difficulty finding funds to resolve the situation.

"We do have a deficit of $200 million," said Gallard. (Meg Frankowski/for NewsWorks)

 

Archaeological dig planned for Germantown Potter's Field site, Oct. 26

The Story: Well over a year ago, the Philadelphia Housing Authority announced its plans to demolish a decaying high-rise in Germantown and replace it with a brand new set of rental units.

Queen Lane Apartments, a 16-story building originally scheduled to be demolished in mid-August, is still standing. It's unclear when, if ever, it will fall.

A piece of American history sits at the heart of the delay.

Not long after plans for the project were presented to the community, a Potter's Field was discovered beneath the site.

The African-African burial ground was, according to the Philadelphia Preservation Alliance, created in 1755 for "all strangers, Negroes, and Mulattoes as they die in any part of Germantown forever."

The finding added layers to an ongoing environmental review of the site to determine the exact boundaries of the burial ground.

To that end, the site has been scanned by ground-penetrating radar. In the coming weeks, the plot is scheduled to be excavated by hand.

Though the project has been approved by the city's zoning board, the Section 106 Agreement must be completed and approved for the project to move forward.

It's possible that the boundaries of the Potter's Field, which PHA has vowed to preserve, will jeopardize everything.

What Happened Next: Nichole Tillman, spokesperson for PHA, said that a demolition date has not been scheduled yet.

"PHA is still waiting for the completion of the 106 process," she wrote in an email.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is overseeing that process. (Aaron Moselle)

 

Giovannone brothers proceed with Bunting House demo plans while opponents seek injunction, Dec. 3

The Story: Local builders Frank and Tony Giovannone sparked a now months-long controversy in September when they secured a demolition permit to bring down several properties in the 5900 block of Ridge Avenue in Roxborough.

Among them, the so-called Bunting House, a large 1800s Second Empire-style home at 5901 Ridge Ave., once owned by a prominent Roxborough physician, motivated local civic groups and the Roxborough Development Corporation to try to find a new tenant for the building to keep it from the wrecking ball.

Complicating matters for neighborhood preservationists is the fact that the house is not a designated historic property.

What Happened Next: The Bunting House's fate remains in the balance, as opponents still seek a temporary restraining order that would save it.

Despite a desire by some to see the Bunting House preserved even if the rest of the properties in question, at 5905, 5907 and 5909 Ridge Ave., are demolished, the Giovannones have said potential future commercial tenants have not been interested in going that route.

Specific future plans for the site are unclear, though the owners have indicated they plan to sell the cleared land for development, possibly including national chain stores and restaurants.

An earlier version of a plan for that corner, under the properties' previous owners, would have seen the Bunting House stay while new construction went around up around it.

After a Monday court hearing, Common Pleas Court Judge Idee C. Fox is now considering whether to issue an injunction that would stop the demolition for which the Giovannones received a permit in September. Fox said she would issue her decision this week. (AZQ)