Posted by: MM | May 1, 2012

Philly Community Group Fighting to Save Land from Sheriff’s Sale

Amy Laura Cahn

At risk of losing its property, the Central Club for Boys and Girls is filing a court petition to stay execution of the sheriff’s sale of two out of eight formerly vacant lots the organization has cared for and used to build community since the 1940s. The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia filed the petition on Tuesday, May 1 to stop the sale and allow Central Club to pursue other remedies.

Based in the Grays Ferry area of South Philadelphia on the 2500 block of Alter Street, the Central Club was founded by noted community leader Mrs. Mabel Wilson. Mrs. Wilson moved to Alter Street in 1928, began gardening in 1929, and lived there until her death in 2010. As owners abandoned homes, which were then demolished, Mrs. Wilson led the neighborhood in transforming what could have been an eyesore into a great asset for the community. She and succeeding generations have used vacant lots to host 4-H clubs, scouting events, community gardening, vacation bible school, and other community activities.

“That land is the legacy of Central Club for Boys and Girls,” says *Stanley Wilson*, current president of the Central Club and Mabel’s son. “This organization has continuously utilized this land for youth development and senior citizen care, providing the community produce from the gardens and plants and flowers. This space has been instrumental in providing constructive educational and recreational activities for the youth of the community and the surrounding areas. People have come throughout Philadelphia to these lots.”

The Central Club obtained title to the property through a quiet title action in 2010, but along with ownership of the property, they assumed decades’ worth of back taxes. Had they owned the land throughout that time, they would have been able to seek an exemption from the taxes that accumulated under the previous delinquent owners.

“Primarily, this is about a community organization with a long, rich history facing an enormous loss that could be avoided,” said Law Center attorney Amy Laura Cahn, who runs the Law Center’s Garden Justice Legal Initiative and represents the Central Club. “But more broadly, this is about our urgent need in Philadelphia for a sane vacant land policy that respects and prioritizes the interests of its communities.”

The Central Club, a registered nonprofit, has filed petitions for retroactive tax forgiveness for the property, but U.S. Bank, represented by Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, continues to force the property into sheriff’s sale. Former City Council president Anna Verna long supported the Central Club. The group looks forward to working with Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and other representatives of the community in the near future.

South of the Graduate Hospital area and just ten blocks from the site for Penn’s new data center at the former DuPont Marshall Research Lab, the neighborhood has begun to attract the attention of developers in recent years.

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