Fighting over the future of Swarthmore | Real Estate Newsletter

Fighting over the future of Swarthmore | Real Estate Newsletter

Debate over condos has raged in Swarthmore for years.

Some in the Delaware County college town support a developer’s plans to build a five-story condo building downtown, close to a SEPTA regional rail station, shops, and restaurants.

A lot of other residents — including architects, preservationists, and businesspeople — think the building that would be the tallest structure in the heart of the borough would chip away at Swarthmore’s distinctive character.

The $30 million, 30-unit project has been the subject of 12 hours of hearings this year.🔑

Read on for that story and to get tips for navigating this spring’s housing market, hear from a reader who lived in a West Philly rowhouse during World War II, peek into a Victorian-style home guarded by gargoyles, and learn how one of the most powerful City Council presidents in Philly history shaped how the city was built.

📮 Spring has basically sprung. Are you planning any major cleaning or home renovation projects this season? For a chance to be featured in my newsletter, email me about your plans.

If you see this 🔑 in today’s newsletter, that means we’re highlighting our exclusive journalism. You need to be a subscriber to read these stories.

— Michaelle Bond

Residents of Swarthmore have competing visions for a slice of the borough’s 1.4 square miles where condos could sprout.

At issue are worries about the loss of open space, pending demolition of buildings, and a parking garage.

One of the founders of a group called Save Our Swarthmore, which collected more than 600 signatures on an anti-condo petition, and an architect who lives in the borough both have other hopes for the site.

Borough council members are scheduled to vote Monday on a developer’s proposal to consolidate several lots to construct the condo building.🔑

MARGO REED / For the Inquirer Council

Council President Darrell L. Clarke announced last month that he will not seek reelection.

While his colleagues consider jumping into the battle to replace him, my colleagues are considering his legacy when it comes to development.

Clarke has strengthened the practice of Council members controlling how land in their districts is used — a tradition called councilmanic prerogative. One result is a lot of zoning carve-outs for certain neighborhoods and a patchwork of development rules across the city.

It also was Clarke’s team that decided it was time to reconsider the city’s 10-year property tax abatement. For new construction, Council essentially cut the value of the tax break in half.

Some career stats:

Read more about Clarke’s time in office and what it all means for Philadelphia.

Recent first-time home sellers are second-guessing themselves

More than 4 in 5 first-time home sellers who sold in the last two years think they could have gotten more money if they’d done something differently, according to a Zillow survey released this month.

Among these sellers’ regrets:

  • 39% wish they had set a higher list price to take advantage of high buyer demand

  • 25% would have added a virtual tour

  • 39% think they should have had better listing photos

  • 25% wish they’d invested more in home improvements and repairs

The latest news to pay attention to

Flowers are popping onto tree branches and out of mulch. High temperatures don’t start with a 3. It’s still pretty light out at 6 p.m. Spring is basically here.

The season is usually the busiest time of year to buy and sell homes.

But the overall market has slowed from earlier frenzy. Mortgage interest rates have been rising, which slows buyer demand. Sellers aren’t rushing to list their homes.

One economist said she thinks “it’s going to be a bumpy spring.”

But you can still take advantage of the market if the time is right for you to jump in. I talked to some experts about how households should approach buying and selling over the next few months. Basically, forget the past and be prepared.

For the details, spring ahead into my story (I had to. The pun in my original headline got axed.) and find out what buyers and sellers should be doing.

Tyger Williams / Staff Photographer

Ashley Devlin and Justin Crean left South Philly to find a home with a garage for Crean’s motorcycle and classic car collections. But they fell in love with a three-story Victorian-style house with no place to store vehicles.

So Amish builders constructed their 700-square-foot garage in Lancaster, drove it to Willow Grove on an 18-wheeler, and erected it in one afternoon.

It’s just one more thing that makes the couple’s home unique.

Devlin and Crean are passionate about antiquing and fill their home with Victorian- and Gothic-styled objects and lots of ornate gold mirrors. Most of the rooms in their house are painted in deep, dark colors.

Peek into their museum-like home and take a look at their taxidermy collection, which includes a punk rock deer head.

🧠 Trivia time 🧠

Two former diners in Burlington County — Sage Diner in Mount Laurel and Marlton Diner in Marlton — closed in 2017 and 2022, respectively. But plans are underway to transform them into a different kind of — sometimes controversial — business.

Question: What could the diners become? This story has the answer.

📷 Photo quiz 📷

This installation by local artist Alex Da Corte greets customers at a seltzer taproom in which neighborhood?

📮 If you think you know, email me back.

I hear it’s been drawing people who want to take selfies. If you’re one of them, send me your best.

🏡 Your home experience 🏡

Last week, a reader emailed me from Arizona (which stings a little, since that’s where our Super Bowl dreams died a month ago). But he’s a transplant from the Philly region and a Philly sports fan, and he wanted to tell me about himself and a specific Philly rowhouse.

Everett Sanborn was born at Metropolitan Hospital — which is now condos — in 1938 and taken home to a rowhouse at the corner of 55th Street and Larchwood Avenue in West Philadelphia. His family rented, and he’s pretty sure the property owner had converted the upper floor into an apartment with a private staircase.

“Many fond memories of my childhood on that street including having black shades during WW2″ and being told to stand next to a building if he ever heard an air raid siren while he was outside.

Memorable, for sure.

Before he turned 6, his family moved to Delaware County when his dad, a meat cutter, transferred to a market there.

As an adult, Everett moved his family to California and then, 16 years ago, to the mountains of central Arizona. There, he noted, “you will not see any rowhouses.”

Rowhouses or mountains. Which is the better living environment? I’ll leave you to ponder your preference. Enjoy the rest of your week.

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