Fishtown waits on ZBA about Thompson St. housing

The city’s ZBA is de­cid­ing wheth­er to grant vari­ances for a pro­posed hous­ing de­vel­op­ment at this lot at Thompson and Lee streets. Neigh­bors have pre­vi­ously voted down a pro­pos­al for 14 units and six park­ing spots. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

Neigh­bors at last week’s Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ments meet­ing about the pro­pos­al for an empty Fishtown lot voiced con­cerns about ‘over­u­til­iz­a­tion’ of the space, as well as park­ing.

More than a dozen neigh­bors from Fishtown ap­peared at a Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ments meet­ing last Wed­nes­day to voice their op­pos­i­tion to a hous­ing pro­ject at 14-22 W. Thompson St., where a com­munity garden once bloomed.

Back in Septem­ber, at a meet­ing of the Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation Zon­ing Com­mit­tee, de­veloper Mike Mur­awski pro­posed a 14-unit res­id­en­tial pro­ject with six park­ing spaces at that site. Neigh­bors voted down that ori­gin­al pro­pos­al 42-34, cit­ing park­ing and space util­iz­a­tion con­cerns.

Ac­cord­ing to at­tor­ney Jordan Rush­ie, an FNA board mem­ber, Mur­awski had first met with the FNA Zon­ing Com­mit­tee for a screen­ing meet­ing for this pro­pos­al in Au­gust 2012, when the com­mit­tee ad­vised him that they be­lieved the 14-22 W. Thompson pro­ject might en­counter op­pos­i­tion from neigh­bors. Mur­awski had sought vari­ances to have the lot rezoned from in­dus­tri­al to res­id­en­tial, and to build four build­ings on three par­cels of land.

On a re­cent af­ter­noon, people who live and work near the block bordered by Lee, Thompson, Leo­pard and Stiles streets had var­ied opin­ions about the new hous­ing pro­ject.

“They don’t need an apart­ment there,” said Elsie Nic­olas, 76, who lives on Leo­pard Street right around the corner from the pro­ject site. “They’ve got enough stuff around here.”

One Fishtown res­id­ent, a re­altor who de­clined to give his name, de­clared “Hell yeah, build it baby!” when asked about the pro­ject.

Oth­er neigh­bors miss the com­munity garden that formerly grew on Thompson Street between Leo­pard and Lee streets, be­fore it was cleared to make way for Mur­awski’s pro­ject.

“It makes me sad, be­cause the garden was so nice,” said a neigh­bor who wished to be iden­ti­fied only as Di­ane, who has worked in the area for 10 years. “They had flowers, ve­g­gies, even a little struc­ture in the middle.”

“I was dis­ap­poin­ted when they got rid of the garden,” said Terry Sher­man, 43, who lives near the site. “They keep tak­ing the land, and there won’t be noth­ing left.”

Po­lice were called to quell the re­portedly rauc­ous and un­ruly Sept. 4 meet­ing, which was “scary,” ac­cord­ing to a neigh­bor in at­tend­ance who asked not to be named.

Mul­tiple people in at­tend­ance at that meet­ing said that after the vote was tal­lied, Mur­awski ac­cused the FNA’s Zon­ing Com­mit­tee of rig­ging the vote.

Mur­awski said he be­lieves his pro­ject is only be­ing op­posed “be­cause I don’t have any friends in the FNA,” he said.

Rush­ie, who rep­res­en­ted the FNA’s Zon­ing Com­mit­tee at last week’s ZBA meet­ing, said that Mur­awski’s re­peated al­leg­a­tions that the FNA rigged the vote are not true.

“We do not care enough to rig votes,” Rush­ie said.

But Mur­awski scoffed at the sug­ges­tion that the FNA is neut­ral.

“We met all their con­cerns. We did everything they asked, and they’re still un­happy,” he said.

Mur­awski’s pro­pos­al was amended to a 10-unit struc­ture with eight park­ing spaces be­fore the ZBA hear­ing took place. But the FNA Zon­ing Com­mit­tee de­clined to sched­ule a second com­munity vote for this mod­i­fied, 10-unit ver­sion of the pro­pos­al, be­cause the modi­fic­a­tions were minor, Rush­ie said.

At lastWed­nes­day’s ZBA hear­ing for this pro­ject, which was pre­vi­ously ad­journed twice, more than a dozen neigh­bors at­ten­ded for the third time to op­pose Mur­awski’s pro­ject.

“It would be very crowded there, with the park­ing,” test­i­fied Fishtown res­id­ent and busi­ness­wo­man Jen Jas­uta, who op­poses the pro­ject. “It’s mostly single-fam­ily houses on that block.”

Pa­tri­cia Lewis of St. John`s Me­mori­al Baptist Church across the street on Thompson Street test­i­fied at the hear­ing that she also be­lieved that the pro­ject would cre­ate park­ing prob­lems for church mem­bers.

“We be­lieve this is too dense and rep­res­ents an over­u­til­iz­a­tion of the space,” New Kens­ing­ton Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion Blocks Co­ordin­at­or Ar­i­el Di Liberto told the ZBA dur­ing the hear­ing.

Ad­di­tion­ally, a rep­res­ent­at­ive from the City Plan­ning Com­mis­sion told the ZBA that the Com­mis­sion views this pro­ject as an “over­u­til­iz­a­tion” of the space.

Sev­en people ap­peared in sup­port of Mur­awski’s pro­ject, and none of them test­i­fied.

Mur­awski said he has fixed up or built 120 homes in the Fishtown area, as well as busi­nesses such as York Street Phar­macy and Salon Blush. He doesn’t un­der­stand why the pro­ject at 14-22 W. Thompson St. is any dif­fer­ent, des­pite the con­cerns neigh­bors have voiced.

“I’m a build­er,” he said. “I’m a neigh­bor­hood guy.”

The ZBA said it would reach a de­cision by Feb. 13 on the vari­ances for the pro­ject.

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­

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