A long-planned meeting between Mount Pleasant residents, property owners and Township officials took place at First Baptist Church on Monday, March 22.
Instead, many in this tight-knit community focused their comments and questions on several unsettling changes taking place in their neighborhood – the influx of investors converting family homes into student housing, and developers buying and razing properties to build new housing.
Organized by local resident Donna Shipman, about fifty Mount Pleasant residents attended. Many complaints focused on the behavior of college students living in the family neighborhood, including the unwelcome increase in non-resident traffic on narrow streets, frequent incidents of speeding, loud parties and rowdy behavior by students, late-night disturbances in the streets involving drinking and urinating in residents’ yards. At least one landlord has placed a large dumpster on a vacant lot instead of paying for regular trash pickup at student housing. All have negatively affected the quality of life in this community.
Supervisor John Di Buonaventuro assured residents that he and other township officials have been looking into measures taken by Radnor, Lower Merion and Haverford Townships to deal with these problems. Township Manager Mimi Gleason asked that Mount Pleasant residents give the Township feedback on provisions they would like to see included in an ordinance put forward in Tredyffrin. She told them the process would require public hearings and could be expected to take three months or more, given this year’s budget constraints.
Another issue troubling many in Mount Pleasant is the amount of land that has been snatched up in the past few years by developers. The demolition of homes and clear-cutting of land are viewed as detracting from the history and character of this predominately African-American community.
One developer reportedly clear-cut trees and shrubs despite a development plan that spared mature trees. In the process, some private property was cleared without the homeowners’ permission. Another developer demolished a house at 958 Mount Pleasant Rd., leaving the lot debris, trash and weed-filled, attracting rodents. This mess has sat unattended for over a year.
The property under development at the foot of Henry Avenue appeared recently tidied and covered with erosion-control netting. However, at least three homes marked for demolition at this site continue to sit abandoned and a danger to neighborhood children. One is the century-old home (shown left) of revered community leader and civil rights activist, Mazie B. Hall.
Nine homes are planned for this property, and according to a Tredyffrin ordinance, contractors are permitted to work there from 7 AM until 8 PM seven days a week. Neighbors are understandably upset.
A surprising number of investor-owners attended Monday night’s meeting. One in particular sparked anger when he suggested that he and other investors have been improving Mount Pleasant, which he characterized in a way that offended many in the audience. Other landlords who spoke, notably, without identifying themselves, expressed an interest in working with the community to resolve problems. Several offered to be more vigilant, include specific conduct clauses covering excessive noise and large gatherings in their leases, and enforce them.
Tredyffrin police officer, Larry Meoli, asked that residents call the police when there are problems with students and assured them the Department would be responsive. Neighbors expressed anger and skepticism, complaining that in the past the police had treated them rudely and told them to handle matters with college renters themselves. Several residents claimed that the police gave warnings but did not cite students for disturbing the peace, under-age drinking or speeding.
After the meeting ended, Donna Shipman and other neighborhood leaders developed an action plan. Supervisor Di Buonaventuro offered to meet with the neighborhood group to move forward on ordinance language related to student housing. A possible change in the current Township ordinance allowing 7-day work schedules at construction sites will be reviewed as well. Steve Norcini, Director of Operations for Tredyffrin, pledged to replace any missing speed limit and caution signs in Mount Pleasant within the next week. Mount Pleasant residents asked that code violations at 958 Mount Pleasant Ave. be addressed immediately, as well as boarding up abandoned houses on Fairview Avenue.
Given the number of issues raised at this meeting, it is clear that the residents of Mount Pleasant deserve more respect and consideration from the Township, investor-landlords and developers than they have received to date. A township commitment to protect their quality of life should be a priority as the mix of housing changes and developers move forward with construction.
Noted by his absence was Paul Olson, who is the Eastern District Supervisor representing this area on the township board. Supervisors DiBuonaventuro, Kichline and Richter did attend, (DiBuonaventuro is actually the Western District Supervisor representing the opposite side of the township.) Also attending from the township staff were: Township Manager Mimi Gleason, Asst. Manager Tom Scott, Steve Norcini, Building Inspector, Code Enforcement officer Mike Pilotti, and Officers Larry Meoli and John De Maio from the police force.