Northeast Times

FNA splits vote on mixed-use development on Frankford Ave.

A design sketch for a po­ten­tial hous­ing and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment at 1850-62 Frank­ford Ave. PHOTO COUR­TESY OF HAR­MAN DEUTSCH AR­CHI­TEC­TURE

Get­ting zon­ing ap­prov­al for a new de­vel­op­ment in Fishtown was harder than de­veloper Frank Mazzio thought it would be. Even though the build­ing would fill a va­cant lot.

However, a lively de­bate at the Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation’s Zon­ing Com­mit­tee meet­ing centered around neigh­bors’ con­cerns as to wheth­er this de­vel­op­ment’s height, park­ing needs and pres­ence on Blair Street would be out of char­ac­ter with the neigh­bor­hood.

“I thought we would get more sup­port, con­sid­er­ing it’s a va­cant lot,” Mazzio told Star, after a roughly 50-50 vote at the meet­ing on Tues­day, Jan. 15, on wheth­er to grant vari­ances for a new mixed-used de­vel­op­ment at 1850-62 Frank­ford Ave.

Mazzio’s pro­posed 14-unit, four-story de­vel­op­ment in­cludes sev­en single-fam­ily units fa­cing Frank­ford Av­en­ue and sev­en more fa­cing Blair Street, with ground-floor com­mer­cial space on Frank­ford Av­en­ue and ground-floor gar­ages on Blair Street.

Mazzio brought this pro­pos­al be­fore the FNA to re­quest OKs for vari­ances in­clud­ing con­vert­ing eight par­cels in­to 14 par­cels; al­low­ing the de­vel­op­ment to go six feet over neigh­bor­hood height lim­its, up to 44 feet; and rezon­ing the par­cels to al­low com­mer­cial use. The loc­a­tion is cur­rently only zoned res­id­en­tial.

“It’s really great to have the com­mer­cial on Frank­ford, but Blair does have a lot of smal­ler houses,” said Rick Miller, an FNA vo­lun­teer who chaired the meet­ing. FNA Zon­ing Com­mit­tee Chair­man Matt Karp was also in at­tend­ance.

Sev­er­al neigh­bors at the meet­ing noted that Frank­ford Av­en­ue has many three-story build­ings, while most build­ings on Blair Street are only two stor­ies. Oth­ers sug­ges­ted that a four-story de­vel­op­ment might block the views of people resid­ing in three-story build­ings across the street.

The total vote of all res­id­ents at the FNA Zon­ing Com­mit­tee meet­ing was 18 to 17 in fa­vor of grant­ing vari­ances for this de­vel­op­ment. But the loc­al vote, from res­id­ents liv­ing with­in 500 feet of the pro­ject, was firmly op­posed, with eight vot­ing against and only two vot­ing in fa­vor. By con­trast, the com­munity vote, from res­id­ents liv­ing out­side a 500-foot ra­di­us from the pro­ject, was 16 to nine in fa­vor of grant­ing the vari­ances.

What’s unique about this pro­pos­al, de­signed for Mazzio by Rustin Ohler of Har­man Deutsch, is that it com­bines hous­ing on Frank­ford Av­en­ue with hous­ing on Blair Street. Back­yard-space would sep­ar­ate hous­ing on the two blocks.

“The Frank­ford [Av­en­ue] par­cels are con­sist­ent with the built en­vir­on­ment on Frank­ford Av­en­ue in gen­er­al,” said NK­CDC com­mer­cial cor­ridor man­ager Henry Py­att, who was at the meet­ing. “It’s also con­sist­ent with the 2004 Frank­ford Av­en­ue plan, which was or­ches­trated by the NK­CDC, with com­munity in­put.”

That plan found that loc­als wanted more hous­ing de­vel­op­ments along Frank­ford Av­en­ue with hous­ing above and ground-floor com­mer­cial space.

But Py­att de­clined to com­ment on the Blair Street side of the pro­ject.

Oth­er loc­als were op­posed to the pro­ject on purely aes­thet­ic grounds.

“Our cul­ture is really go­ing down, as far as be­ing artist­ic, with all these box build­ings,” said Fishtown res­id­ent Sa­bina Ku­lig, who voted against sup­port­ing the vari­ances.

She re­ferred to the de­vel­op­ment as “boxes” with a “So­viet Bolshev­ik hous­ing” design.

“Who is go­ing to come to Phil­adelphia to look at boxes?” Ku­lig asked.

Wheth­er the vari­ances will be gran­ted is to be de­term­ined by the Phil­adelphia Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ments at the hear­ing for this de­vel­op­ment, which has yet to be sched­uled, ac­cord­ing to Ohler.

However, when votes are split 50-50, as this vote nearly was, the ZBA may choose to weigh the loc­al vote more heav­ily, Miller said. The FNA Zon­ing Com­mit­tee will send the ZBA a let­ter with the vote res­ults and a sum­mary of the is­sues that were brought up at the meet­ing.

Ohler said there are no plans to re­design the build­ing yet to ad­dress the cri­ti­cisms brought up at the meet­ing.

Mazzio said he be­lieves the de­vel­op­ment will still hap­pen.

“I think we will get it off the ground,” Mazzio pre­dicted. “I know the neigh­bor­hood is strong. … It’s boom­ing. The eco­nomy has changed.”

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­house@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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