Story by Travis Rocha
The most controversial moment of the Oct. 28 City Council meeting came during the debate over a resolution that proposed replacing a parking lot in the 1600 block of Page Street with several new houses, built by Habitat for Humanity.
The resolution, introduced by Councilmember Cherelle Parker, supports the building of several new houses in place of an open parking lot that is currently used by the block’s residents.
Amid the seven other resolutions/bills that passed with little fanfare on Oct. 28th, Resolution 210848 could have easily snuck by just as all the others did. However, residents from Page Street spoke out against the resolution during the public comment session.
Everyone who spoke mentioned the lack of adequate parking in North Philly. Removing a parking lot in favor of adding even more residents to the area was met with vociferous public criticism.
The council first heard from Queen Judith Robinson, a resident of the block who described the parking lot as “much needed.”
“Wow, it’s amazing to watch gentrification,” Robinson said. “All the things that can happen to constituents who have worked hard and voted for representatives for the past 20 years.”
The redevelopment contract is being handled by Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia. But the parking lot is crucial to those who already live on the block, Robinson said, so any new construction is not welcome.
“This block is one of the first developments where the folks who are seniors have been living there for over 50 years,” Robinson said. “This parking lot was designated to them since 1964. Now here comes Habitat with their real flowery mission, which watching it is real dangerous.”
The issue is not Habitat for Humanity’s mission, but rather their lack of regard for current residents, Robinson said. Over the past decade, more and more Temple students have become renters on the block and the surrounding area, placing more pressure on parking.
“They already have permit parking on this block,” Robinson said. “They already have handicap parking, and they’re competing with Temple students with this parking lot here.”
Residents say Temple students renting in the neighborhood take up a significant amount of parking spaces that would otherwise be available for residents.
Mary McNatt, another resident of the 1600 block who has lived there for 51 years, echoed Robinson’s concerns.
“Temple has been parking there in neighborhoods from all over,” McNatt said. “You’re putting more houses than we need. We’re already congested.”
McNatt, who identified herself as disabled, further voiced her concerns regarding the inconvenience of losing access to the parking lot.
“I can’t walk all the way from Norris Street to walk all the way around, like they suggested, from the office to my home,” McNatt said. “I live in the middle of the block. You’re going to inconvenience me again. You did it once before, but [we] had the parking lot where we can cut through, because it was a driveway from Page Street onto Norris Street, and now you’re going to end me.”
McNatt went on to say she was afraid to visit the doctor’s or go shopping because she likely will not find easy parking upon her return.
“It’s a constant worry,” McNatt said. “And I need my car, because then you’re cutting my mobility, which is cutting my quality of life. How am I to feed myself or get my medication?”
After McNatt’s comments, Council President Darrell Clarke decided to put the resolution on hold and acknowledge the parking problem not only on this particular block, but in the entire city. Following Council President Clarke’s decision, the council also heard from Gavin Copa and Antoinette Murphy who spoke on the same resolution.
Copa reiterated the lack of space in the area and also questioned how a fire truck or ambulance would be able to fit during times of need if the Habitat houses were to be built over the parking lot.
Murphy concurred with the previous speakers.
“We need to make a positive change and put our residents and neighbors first,” Murphy said.
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