A proposal to build new senior housing on unused lots is ruffling some local feathers.

By Fred Durso Jr.
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 9, 2006

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A six-story building is being proposed for the vacant lots on the 2300 block of Grays Ferry Avenue. A unique partnership would be responsible for the new development. Staff photo by Meredith Edlow

Renovation is not the only thing rumbling on the 2300 block of Grays Ferry Avenue. Amid the quaint stores and eateries popping up is -- once again -- controversy over what to do with two vacant lots on the street.

For years there has been talk about how to develop the parcels of land next to Odunde Inc.'s building, an African educational and cultural organization.

A new proposal intends to turn the site into an affordable-housing complex, specifically for seniors ages 62 and older. But some residents who aren't happy with the project's size and scope say it is not conducive to surrounding development.

The intended demolition of Odunde's building will help create a six-story structure containing 16 units. Community rooms are proposed on the sixth and first floor, which also would allot for some commercial space.

Many neighbors heard about these plans at a South of South Neighborhood Association zoning meeting Oct. 18.

The Redevelopment Authority has transferred ownership of the property to Osun Village, LP, a partnership between Odunde and local developer Universal Companies. If plans are approved by the city, the entity will develop the site.

A continuance was granted during a zoning hearing Nov. 1, with another scheduled for Nov. 20, Gail Johns, spokesperson for the Department of Licenses and Inspections, said.

Barb Failer, a committeeperson in the 30th Ward who lives blocks from the site, supports senior housing� -- but at a different location.

"It's an inappropriate site for this project," she said. "It's the main commercial district and square for our neighborhood, and I would like to see the first floor be commercial.

"It's very high-density housing and there is no current street parking with the plan. It's too tall for that block. Everything else on that block is no taller than three stories."

Failer continued, "Over 90 percent of people who live within two blocks" of the proposed site do not support the project.

Other concerns include height and spatial propositions, residents say, do not meet the current zoning requirements.

The notion for such a project was proposed more than four years ago, Victoria Wilson, Universal's chief operating officer, said.

"We looked at the needs of the community and it was determined at that time that senior housing was needed and would be needed more so in the future if all the different development were to take place that was proposed at the time," she said.

New development in the surrounding area -- expensive homes that have been rehabbed and Naval Square -- does not include affordable options for seniors, Wilson said, adding many elderly residents are on waiting lists to obtain reasonably priced housing in the neighborhood.

Attempts at breathing new life into the location is nothing new. Kathleen Murray, special assistant to Council President Anna Verna, noted there have been talks regarding development since 1997.

A 2002 Review article relayed neighbors' concerns over a former consideration to have Odunde head construction of a senior housing complex at that site. Residents mentioned such an organization was not fit to handle that development.

Not much has changed, according to Lisa Parsley, of 24th Street and St. Alban's Place.

"Odunde has no experience in this field, and Universal is way behind on other projects," she recently stated in a letter to neighbors, Mayor John Street and City Council. "It's not fair to expect them to take on still more."

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