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 firstname.lastname@example.org.