It’s been widely noted that Old Kensington, or South Kensington, has plenty of empty land to build on. As much as one-fourth of the land in the area sat empty as of last year, and the local community organization, South Kensington Community Partners, has been aggressive about both keeping empty lots clean and encouraging redevelopment of vacant land. (We’ve posted our share of articles about the recent uptick in development of vacant land in Old Kensington as well.)
So it is puzzling indeed to learn that the City of Philadelphia is taking lots in active use, owned by local residents, and handing them over to another community group that wants to build affordable housing in the area.
One of the residents whose land has been seized by the city, pizzeria owner Meletios Anthanasiadis, has been quite vocal in criticizing what he sees as an unjustified land grab that is depriving small landowners and tenants of their livelihoods. Anthanasiadis owns seven of the lots that the city has taken via eminent domain so that the Arab American Development Corporation can build a new affordable housing development. The lots are leased to local business owners who use them as garages or accessory space for businesses they run, including a repair shop and an antique auto restoration business.
Both Anthanasiadis and many of the other landowners whose lots the city seized via the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) either planned to redevelop them themselves when conditions permitted or actively use them for their own purposes, For a few, their properties represented security in their later years.
The Arab-American Development Corporation’s planned project has much to recommend it: it’s an energy-efficient, green, affordable housing project that will be built by one of the city’s best and most innovative builders, Onion Flats. But with so much empty land still going begging in Old Kensington, is there any good reason for the city to use its condemnation powers to deprive small landowners of land they use in order to benefit a favored developer, regardless how noble the project? Why didn’t the PRA work with SKCP to identify idle land that could be assembled for the project?
Kensington property owners: The city is stealing our land via eminent domain (UPDATED) (Naked City blog|CityPaper)
Philly pizza shop owner says housing project will steal his piece of the dream (Newsworks|WHYY)