To the Editor:
We were disappointed to read Michael Peters’s recent letter to the editor. Mr. Peters is the vice-chairman of the Swarthmore Zoning Hearing Board, so his willingness to opine in public before the planning commission has heard all sides in the proposal for 200 S. Chester, raises questions about his impartiality and does a disservice to the planning commission.
To address the substance of his letter, we offer the following comments on the HeadStrong Foundation’s proposal:
1. This is a single-family house in a single family residential zone. It is a nice neighborhood with 23 single family houses, approximately 70 residents and many children. Putting an institution there that plans to run a hotel for short-term, transient residents (up to 140 per year) is a major change: to the character of the neighborhood, the intent of the Swarthmore zoning plan, and the reasonable expectations of the residents.
2. The house is unsuited for the proposed use. This is a 125-year old, three floor house with all of the quirks and maintenance issues that entails. It is not handicap accessible and probably can never be made so. There is no fire suppression system, and no multiple egress in case of fire from the bedroom floors. Housing vulnerable and handicapped patients in this house may well be irresponsible.
3. Parking and traffic are huge problems. The house realistically has the ability to park 7-8 cars on the driveway — and they will need far more than that for all the residents, volunteers, maintenance, visitors, and healthcare staff. Harvard Ave. traffic and parking are already at critical levels due to train station, church, and school use. Swarthmore police have recorded 21 accidents at Harvard and Chester since 2010.
4. The Foundation’s plan for the house is poorly conceived. Their very limited experience is from using two rooms as temporary residences in their headquarters in a commercial zone in Ridley. For Swarthmore, they propose that 14 residents — cancer patients and caregivers — do their own cleaning, sharing just three bathrooms and one residential kitchen. There will be no full-time staff presence, but instead a reliance on volunteers — if and when available. They deny that the house should be regulated or inspected by any relevant authority, despite the fact that this is an institution.
5. This Foundation is a very small charity and has not explained how it has the financial ability to operate this house at a reasonable standard. Their filings with the IRS are publicly available — they show no endowment, that the house price is approximately equal to their entire net assets, and they have limited historical cash flow.
We oppose the proposal because it would allow a small, underfunded, inexperienced charity to run a dubious and perhaps irresponsible plan in a house and neighborhood that were neither designed nor intended for this use. Swarthmore is a beautiful town, with many houses that institutions will find attractive if this use is permitted, and it should not lightly change its rules without looking hard at the “who, how, and what” details that in this case strongly support rejecting this request.
William Feehery, Lisa Feehery, Grady Harrington
Brian McCarthy, Deborah Carunchio, Anthony Carunchio
All from Swarthmore