Tuesday, September 27, 2011
By GARY PULEO
Stylishly traditional and built to fit both dreams and budgets, Arbor Heights is proof that the new can be built to blend in seamlessly with the old.
The dozen energy-efficient towwnhomes designed to age gracefully are about six months away from completion, but are already beginning to transform their DeKalb Street environs.
“I’m very excited about the impact the project already is having on the neighborhood,” said developer Sarah Peck, president of Malvern-based Progressive Housing Ventures and one of the first women in the country to head a production building company.
“The whole idea is to serve as a catalyst for other homes to get renovated and revitalized in the immediate vicinity and that’s exactly what’s happening.
“We had a house across the street that was renovated for home ownership and is going to settlement this month.”
Before Arbor Heights itself even begins to soak up the grandeur all around it — the area once known as Millionaires Row is a mere block away — it’s spurred a homeowner on nearby Green Street to get moving on a serious domicile makeover.
“It’s a private citizen who sees what we’re doing and has now decided it’s time to upgrade his property,” Peck noted. “Arbor Heights is fulfilling the mission. After all the talk and a decade of planning, it’s actually happening and doing exactly what it’s supposed to.”
Sandwiched between stately, century-old homes, the new units will go up at 1000 and 1010 DeKalb St., on the site where two run-down buildings were demolished to make way for the spot’s glorious second act.
With funds from a federal Home grant, a Pennsylvania RACP grant and Montgomery County Affordable Housing Trust Fund dollars, the municipality was able to purchase the land and tear down the crumbling eyesores to pave the way for a phoenix to rise from the ashes.
Barton Partners Architects of Norristown created plans that evoke the mansion-esque historic homes that line the street, but actually contain six two-story townhomes in each building.
The two- and three-bedroom homes, starting in the $120,000s, are within the financial grasp of many who would otherwise be able to even think about buying a home, Peck said.
“Buyers will have incredible financial incentives. To buy here will not only be less money than to rent, but as long as the homeowner can qualify and save three percent of the purchase, the rest is taken care of. That’s only about $3,700 of $125,000 they will need.”
Anyone who is willing to take a chance on an emerging neighborhood will benefit, Peck said.
“This is the way Society Hill was in the 1950s and Conshohocken in the 1980s.
“You have to be willing to take a little bit of a risk but there are tremendous rewards.”
For longtime Norristown booster and activist Jim Daley, Arbor Heights is geared to take DeKalb Street to the heights of its heyday decades ago.
“This is all part and parcel in what we’re trying to do to improve the housing stock in the community and improve the outlook and return it to what I knew of it being raised here,” Daley said. “I knew the house that was here when it was in its best shape and watched it go down. When you look at the other houses around here that have been maintained that’s just part of how masonries and bricklayers took pride in their work here. Norristown has one of the largest concentrations of historic buildings in the United States. I look forward to seeing the homeownership seeds at Arbor Heights take root on this block and help restore it to what it was once was.”