Jethro Heiko and his wife moved to the 100 block of Allen Street in Fishtown with their two young children in 2006 because they said they were looking for a quiet place to live.
“It’s this wonderful little pocket of 200-year-old historic homes. I know my neighbors,” Heiko said.
Heiko said that he was especially reassured that his children would grow up in a quiet, safe neighborhood because of the North Delaware Avenue zoning overlay that bans nightclubs in the area. The overlay was passed in 2002 by the City Council in response to high rates of crime related to problem clubs and bars on Delaware Avenue.
Now, however, a massive entertainment complex known as Penn Treaty Village has been proposed by developer Michael Samschick of Core Realty.
The proposed development includes a Fillmore concert venue operated by Live Nation, a Toby Keith country and western restaurant with live music, a second restaurant with a 20-lane bowling alley, a distillery and office space.
It’s all planned to go inside the old Ajax Metal Works and a dry ice building at Richmond Street and Frankford Avenue, just a few hundred feet from Heiko’s home.
Last week, at a hearing of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, Heiko stood up in protest in the audience, along with other Allen Street residents, after one of the project’s planners described the area as a “no man’s land” in testimony.
“What? We live here!” Heiko said, interrupting the hearing. He and other Allen Street residents stood up for several minutes, to make their presence known to ZBA judges.
“Some folks call it a no man’s land, between the highway and the waterfront. There’s nobody there,” Penn Treaty Village planner Janice Woodcock, of Interface Studios, had said of the project’s location during the ZBA hearing, sparking Heiko and the other residents’ ire.
Core Realty, which is developing the $600 million, 150,000-square-foot proposal, was before the ZBA seeking 10 variances for this project, including from the North Delaware Avenue zoning overlay that prohibits nightclubs.
A previous hearing on April 17 was adjourned without a decision after Heiko and other Allen Street residents voiced their opposition to the project.
Last Wednesday, the ZBA held a special hearing for Penn Treaty Village.
Samschick testified at the hearing that he considered many development options for the Ajax and dry ice buildings, including retail and residential options, before settling on the current plan. He said no other option is commercially viable, and said that Penn Treaty Village is not a nightclub.
“It’s not a nightclub. It’s family-friendly entertainment,” Samschick said.
At a Fishtown Neighbors Association (FNA) Zoning Committee meeting in September 2012, neighbors attending the meeting voted 85 to 26 in favor of Penn Treaty Village.
“The community feels that it’s something that we want to see come to Fishtown,” testified attorney Jordan Rushie, an FNA board member who spoke on behalf of the community at the ZBA hearing.
“The neighbors like that the buildings are not being demolished. They expressed that the area has been blighted for a while,” Rushie continued. “We feel that it would be a travesty to leave the area undeveloped.”
But attorney Paul Boni, who represented Heiko, his wife, and Allen Street resident Ed Verroll at the hearing, disagreed.
“This project is a disaster in the making,” Boni argued. “If you take the concert venue with 3,000 people, that alone would blow this neighborhood out of the water.”
Boni argued that Penn Treaty Village must be considered a nightclub, and thus is prohibited by the zoning overlay. Alternately, he said, the proposal does not have enough parking, as the city’s zoning code requires one parking spot for every two guests at nightclubs.
The proposed concert venue has capacity for 3,000 people and the country and western restaurant has capacity for 800, which alone would require 1,900 parking spaces per Boni’s logic.
But the Philadelphia City Planning Commission has approved the Penn Treaty Village proposal, in part on the condition that Core Realty demonstrate the availability at least 500 parking spaces.
Attorney Anthony Forte, who represented Core Realty, and city solicitor Andrew Ross, who represented the Department of Licenses & Inspections, argued that the CPC’s decision to approve Penn Treaty Village supersedes the zoning overlay prohibiting nightclubs.
The four-and-a-half-hour hearing ended in a continuance with no final decision. The ZBA did not say when it would issue a decision on this matter.
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.