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 firstname.lastname@example.org.