On the 3400 block of Ryan Avenue in Mayfair, residents are becoming increasingly concerned with the quality of their community. One boarded up home is bringing down morale and a disputed plot of land behind their homes is bringing the neighbors to a head with the Mayfair Community Development Corporation.
A primary worry for residents is the home at 3446 Ryan Avenue, which was boarded up after a fire almost two years ago. The woman who owns the house hasn’t done anything with it since the fire but comes around every once in a while. Residents say they saw her just a few weeks ago at the home for the first time in almost six months.
“If I ever try to sell this house, who knows what it would sell for now that that’s there,” said Richard Smith, who lives just a few doors down from the boarded up home, as he pointed toward the run-down house.
Yet, good news might just be around the corner for the distressed residents.
The Mayfair CDC just filed for conservatorship of the house under Act 135, a law enacted a few years ago that gives the CDC the ability to take temporary ownership of the house to make necessary renovations. Its purpose was to give communities the ability to go after absentee landlords to protect their community from plummeting property value because of a few abandoned or unattended homes.
“It gives us the power as a community organization to not let one house ruin a whole block and it keeps the neighbors happy,” said Mayfair CDC representative Joe DeFelice.
Properties do have to adhere to certain conditions for the CDC to use conservatorship but the properties most often receive routine complaints involving infestation, trash accumulation and property deterioration.
Mayfair has so far successfully renovated a few residential homes using Act 135 — the most recent one being 3569 Sheffield Street, on the corner of of Sheffield and Frankford Avenue. One of the key things that makes certain homes ripe for the picking is their location on a main corridor of the community. For DeFelice, the ugly sight is the number one priority.
“It gives people a negative connotation for what Mayfair looks like,” said DeFelice. “These main thoroughfares are what people see and what they then turn around and base their opinion of Mayfair on.”
After the renovations are completed and the house is in livable condition, the conservator then bills the original owner for the cost of the work. If the owner is unable to pay the bill, the conservator has the right to sell the property to cover the cost of the renovations, but the remaining money from the property sale does go to the owner.
“I look at it as a win all-around for the neighborhood,” said DeFelice.
For 3446 Ryan Ave, the conservatorship is just in its beginning stages. The Mayfair CDC has just been to court over the property and is currently trying to locate and contact the current homeowner. The CDC would ideally like to have the owners agree to do the renovations themselves because it’s one less thing on its plate. However, it usually comes down to court processes and a big headache before things can be solved.
“The house is an eyesore with all of the trash and piled takeout menus,” said neighbor Jean Williams. “It poses an opportunity for vagrants to move into the abandoned property.”
The boarded up, rotting home isn’t the only thing residents worry about on this block, though.
Many people are concerned with the status of a triangular stretch of property behind their block that sits between 3400 block of Ryan Ave and the 3400 block of Cottman Ave.
Scott Cummings, an older resident, previously owned the land. He maintained the property in decent condition, and had several plans for the land that included a swimming pool, a park or a playground.
Residents were left with the impression that something would be done with the lot but nothing every came to fruition.
Chris Gerhardt, a resident of the 3400 block of Ryan Ave, thought the owner wanted to put a commercial parking lot there for Cottman Avenue shops. Gerhardt already feels that she fights for parking in the community on a regular basis and didn’t want to see another asphalt area in her backyard.
“We don’t want a chance for abandoned cars to be left here, either,” Gerhardt added.
Julianne Taylor, a neighbor whose property also backs onto this lot, felt like there should have been a park there and doesn’t understand why that never happened.
“They couldn’t get it together,” Taylor said. “You know how many kids could have used a park here?”
With the lot still in the same condition as when Cummings bought it years earlier, he passed away, leaving his daughter with the property. Uninterested in the land, Cummings’ daughter left it unattended and in poor condition.
In 2005, the Mayfair Civic Association purchased the triangular plot of land from Cummings’ daughter.
Several residents had different views on what to do with the space communally. Many residents wanted a park for their children and or a permit parking area for the residents, while others saw the lot as an impossible space to tackle.
The residents were never able to collectively agree on the property’s future construction plan, so the Civic Association rented out individual portions for an annual fee of $200.00 to use for backyard space.
“It’s difficult because you can’t build on it,” said the Civic Association’s legal counselor, Joe DeFelice. “You can’t use it for commercial vehicles. It’s essentially dead real estate.”
After three years of renting the property out to homeowners, the residents found the arrangement problematic. They wanted to buy their portions instead. Sale contracts and deeds were drawn for the interested buyers, who needed to place an initial 80 percent deposit down to secure the portioned-off land and pay off the Civic Association’s cost for surveying the land and contracting the deeds.
But there was one tiny problem: the Civic Association didn’t own the entire plot of land.
Cummings’ deed from the owner before him exempted the interior portion, and so the Civic Association only owned the exterior portion of the triangle, which is just the concrete of the alleyways that residents drive their cars on.
The Civic tracked down the original owner’s children, who now owned the land, via Facebook and finally secured the interior part of the land.
With plans finally coming together and the 4th Survey District of Philadelphia having surveyed the land, the Planning Commission then claimed that separate deeds needed to be recorded for each piece of land. The request doubles the cost for potential buyers.
“We’re kind of stuck for doing the right thing,” said DeFelice.
The Civic Association’s real estate attorney, Jimmy Newmoon Roybal, is now in possession of the deeds and is petitioning the Planning Commission re-record the deeds.
A total of nine residents have contracts in place to purchase the divided portions. The Civic Association has plans to meet next month in regards to the drawing of the individual deeds. Planning may take another year to be finalized but the Civic Association is still looking to the future with this coveted stretch of land.
“In an ideal world, each house would have a detached backyard but I realize that’s not the case,” said DeFelice. “Most of the neighbors don’t want a park outback. I would like for those neighbors to eventually make a community garden out of it.”
Although the Civic Association currently owns the unused lot, there are many residents between Cottman and Ryan Avenue that are involved and following the effort being made by the Civic’s legal counsel. The lot is currently barren with overgrown trees, small tomato gardens and sectioned off parking spaces that are sparsely scattered throughout the lot.
Nearby homeowners are questioning if they’ll ever be able to enjoy the land and its potential while they look down at the abandoned house at the end of the street. Until deeds are finalized and the house is renovated, the neighbors will continue to wait.