Phila. developers are learning compromise can pay off

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Project manager John Wieland (left), Gary A. Jonas Jr., Realtors Tracy Slowik and Tom Dilsheimer.

Some developers breeze into a neighborhood, with no concern whose toes they step on.

Then there's Gary A. Jonas Jr., who saw an opportunity in the Art Museum area for an apartment project but listened to the neighborhood and instead is building 10 luxury townhouses for at least $1.75 million each.

His willingness to listen and then compromise has really paid off.

"Even before being able to finish three of our models, five were under agreement," said Jonas, a principal in How? Properties of Conshohocken, whose last project in this part of the city was apartments at 12th and Mount Vernon Streets, east of Broad Street.

The townhouse development, Green Street Estates in the 2300 block of Green Street, is on the site of St. Francis Xavier convent, which was demolished to accommodate new construction.

That wasn't the original idea, however.

"When I acquired the site, I planned to put in 50 to 60 luxury apartments," he said.

The convent, which had been closed for many years, was in the middle of the site, Jonas said, and "I thought it would be terrible to knock it down, since it might have some special meaning to neighborhood residents" - who, he acknowledged, did not seem enamored of development.

So the plan was to build around the convent.

When neighbors, including members of the Spring Garden Civic Association, asked to talk with him, "I expected them to request more parking" or something along those lines.

Instead, they told Jonas that although he had zoning approval for the rental apartments, his project "didn't fit into their vision of the neighborhood," he said.

The relationship, adversarial in the beginning, began to get friendlier when Jonas proved willing to reach a compromise.

The meeting, in August 2014, found the civic association's zoning committee and neighbors "expressing serious opposition," according to a report in the association's newsletter.

"To his credit, Gary agreed to shelve his original plans and build 10 high-end single-family houses instead, and hired an excellent architect, skilled in that type of development," the association reported.

The result of a compromise brokered by zoning committee member and architect Kevin Rasmussen, the townhouses - three on Pennsylvania Avenue and five on Green Street, satisfied abutting property owners' concerns about being "boxed in" by Jonas' original plan, the newsletter reported.

The compromise reached by Jonas and his neighbors is among several recent examples in the city, which is awash in all manner of residential projects as young professionals and downsizing baby boomers adopt the urban lifestyle.

The original plan for Ryan's Crossing's seven townhouses at North Leithgow Street and St. John Neumann Way in Northern Liberties also did not sit well with the neighbors.

But developer Callahan-Ward acknowledged that the negotiations resulted in "a better-looking project than we had originally presented," said Nino Cutrufello, a principal in the firm.

The buyers of How? Properties' Green Street townhouses are "couples ages 25 to 50, with children or planning to have them, who are already living in the city and are looking to move up," said Tom Dilsheimer of the firm's real estate division, who is selling them.

The models, which were not really needed to sell the first five townhouses, are finally up, he said.

"I just showed them to two prospective buyers, one right after the other, this morning," Dilsheimer said. One of the selling points was "big, wide-open floor plans" - key in new construction in a city of narrow rowhouses.

Jonas, who with partners Andrew Blum, Gary E. Risler and William J. McLaughlin started out in 1998 as Advanced Mortgage Concepts, focuses on "edge neighborhoods."

"My message is work the people who live there, and know what they need," Jonas said.

aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472@alheavens

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