The Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment has approved a proposed plan by the Woman’s Community Revitalization Project that would demolish two bank buildings on Front and Norris streets and replace them with low-income housing.
The WCRP’s proposed Nitza Tufino townhouses were approved in a 3-0 vote by the ZBA on Aug. 14. The project has been a source of contention among community groups, residents and other concerned individuals in the neighborhood.
Located on 1942 N. Front St., Industrial Trust, Title & Savings and Ninth National Bank would be replaced by three adjoining row houses comprised of 25 living units, one community space and 10 parking spaces on Hope Street, located directly behind the bank buildings.
Although all street frontages will be three stories, the rear parts of some buildings will be just one or two stories, according to Paul Aylesworth, development team coordinator for the WCRP.
ldquo;I think it’s going to be really great for the neighborhood,” said Nora Lichtash, executive director for WCRP.
The Fishtown Neighbors Association and East Kensington Neighbors Association argue, however, that the proposed plan will hinder commercial development in the area.
Jordan Rushie, attorney for the FNA, notes that several new businesses, like Leotah’s Place coffee shop at 2033 E. York St., and Buzz Café at 1800 N. Howard St., have emerged in the community in the last two years.
“Residential units will hamper the burgeoning economics of an up and coming commercial corridor,” Rushie said.
The blog Hidden City Philadelphia [hiddencityphila.org] reported that Rushie plans to work alongside a neighborhood resident to appeal the zoning board’s decision.
Lichtash stated commercial development in the area is currently not feasible, citing the findings of a June 2011 study authored by Urban Partners, a consulting firm that assists public, private and nonprofit clients with urban development projects.
The study concluded that in the short term, retail and commercial opportunities are “very limited” in Front Street and Kensington Avenue district, and it’s not likely that retail uses will occur in the next five to 10 years.
The bank buildings’ historical significance in Kensington has led local residents, the FNA and EKNA to further oppose their demolition.
“The bank building is a historic part of Kensington’s textile industry,” Rushie said.
The bank buildings are two of 44 parcels are part of a proposed “thematic district” for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Logan Ferguson, senior associate at Powers & Co., a national consulting firm which specializes in preserving historic structures.
“They are unusual examples of high-style commercial buildings in an otherwise extremely industrial part of Philadelphia,” Ferguson said.
She added the buildings also symbolize the financial history of the neighborhood — a history that made the industrialization of the area possible.
“As no neighborhood is ever solely under one category or another, I think it is important that fabric representing the entire history of Kensington be retained,” she said.
The buildings could be redeveloped with the help of grants made available if they are included in the historic district, but more regulations would also be implemented regarding their demolition, Ferguson said.
Although WCRP provides housing to low-income residents in the community, Rushie notes that that both the density resulting from the proposed plan as well as its location drives the community groups’ opposition.
He notes residents will be crammed into small units and that Front Street is not a suitable residential space given the street’s corner bar, prostitution, drugs and other crime.
Neighborhood residents echoed similar concerns at community meetings throughout the summer.
“Low-income residents deserve bread, but they also deserve roses, too,” Rushie said.
According to Lichtash, the WCRP is waiting until next spring for a decision from the state on whether the project will receive low-income tax credits.
If the organization receives them, construction will begin in the spring of 2014.
Reporter Paulina Malek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.