EDITORIAL: The great, big parking problem

Why our con­cerns about our cars can some­times make us our own worst en­emies. 


Phil­adelphi­ans have a park­ing prob­lem, but it may not be the one you think.

Lack of park­ing is the grand­est griev­ance of most city-dwell­ing auto own­ers, and it’s what ties up zon­ing meet­ings re­gard­ing new de­vel­op­ment for hours. 

It’s a real con­cern, to be sure. 

But in the River Wards par­tic­u­larly, where de­vel­op­ment — the re­use of va­cant in­dus­tri­al build­ings, hous­ing con­struc­tion on blighted land, and a pro­pos­al for the city’s second casino, for ex­ample — be­comes ever more fre­quent, it also might be the last thing we should be wor­ried about.

Es­tim­ates on how many va­cant build­ings or lots ex­ist in the city range from 30,000 to 60,000. It’s no secret that blight is pre­val­ent in the River Wards. And when build­ings sit in dilap­id­a­tion, tra­gic things hap­pen, like the Buck Ho­siery Fact­ory fire, in April 2012. 

Re­spons­ible and well-planned de­vel­op­ment and the re­use of blighted prop­er­ties should trump con­cerns about avail­able park­ing. Too of­ten, de­vel­op­ment — de­vel­op­ment that has a real shot at adding value and safety to the River Wards — is stalled be­cause of park­ing con­cerns that simply aren’t as crit­ic­al as what the de­vel­op­ment could of­fer these com­munit­ies. 

For ex­ample: 

In Septem­ber, Plan­Philly pub­lished an art­icle re­gard­ing 1421 E. Columbia Ave., a va­cant build­ing that Ro­land Kassis of Domani De­velopers wants to con­vert in­to a 57-unit apart­ment com­plex with a City Fit­ness gym on the ground floor. 

Kassis presen­ted his case to the Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment on Tues­day, Sept. 3. The ZBA held its de­cision be­cause it’s un­clear what ex­act zon­ing ap­plies to the pro­ject. 

However, at the Septem­ber ZBA hear­ing for the prop­erty, neigh­bors’ greatest con­cern was park­ing, the art­icle said. Kassis said that off­s­ite park­ing would be avail­able to City Fit­ness mem­bers, but some neigh­bors were skep­tic­al that gym go­ers would use the re­mote lot if they could find a spot closer, thereby tak­ing over res­id­ents’ park­ing spaces.

The pro­ject in­cludes 30 un­der­ground park­ing spaces and 57 bi­cycle park­ing spaces. The Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation voted in sup­port of the pro­ject as a whole, but res­id­ents nearest to the prop­erty voted against it. 

A City Fit­ness rep­res­ent­at­ive said that at City Fit­ness’ Gradu­ate Hos­pit­al loc­a­tion, vir­tu­ally all cus­tom­ers live with­in a mile of the fa­cil­ity, and park­ing is not a prob­lem. Ac­cord­ing to the art­icle, “none of that testi­mony seemed to mol­li­fy the near neigh­bors.”

But why not? Sure, this is a city — it is, in­her­ently, not ne­ces­sar­ily a car-friendly place. Of course, many of its res­id­ents simply can’t do without a car. 

However, it seems many res­id­ents might not be aware just how much less de­pend­ent Phil­adelphia is get­ting on cars, and just how un­ne­ces­sary an over­abund­ance of park­ing spaces might be.

A Next City Au­gust art­icle re­ports SEPTA rider­ship is at its highest level in two dec­ades, and that Philly has the highest rate of bike com­mut­ing of the 10 largest U.S. cit­ies. 

Fur­ther­more, the city’s new zon­ing code, ad­op­ted in 2012, re­duced reg­u­lat­ory re­quire­ments for de­velopers and busi­nesses to provide off-street park­ing. But, the art­icle points out, “there have been ef­forts to re­in­state the stat­utory park­ing min­im­ums, rather than al­low Philly’s walk­able neigh­bor­hoods to nat­ur­ally evolve in the more ped­es­tri­an-friendly dir­ec­tion en­vi­sioned by the new code.”

But, ac­cord­ing to  the 2011 Amer­ic­an Com­munity Sur­vey: “Between 2005 and 2011, Phil­adelphia’s pop­u­la­tion grew by 10,966 house­holds, and 6,919 of those, or 62.92 per­cent, did not own a car.”

Philly al­lows every op­por­tun­ity to live without a car if one isn’t ab­so­lutely ne­ces­sary, and more city res­id­ents than ever don’t use cars, elim­in­at­ing the need for a sea of park­ing spots at each and every de­vel­op­ment. 

In Fishtown last year, Core Re­alty de­veloper Mi­chael Sam­schick pro­posed con­vert­ing the former Ajax Met­al Works and dry ice build­ings in Fishtown in­to an en­ter­tain­ment, din­ing and re­tail des­tin­a­tion — Canal Street North at Penn Treaty Vil­lage. It would in­cor­por­ate both va­cant build­ings and would com­prise a Live Na­tion con­cert ven­ue, a res­taur­ant, a 20-lane bowl­ing al­ley and a sports bar, a “boutique dis­til­lery” with a tast­ing bar, and a Toby Keith coun­try-and-west­ern res­taur­ant with live mu­sic. 

The pro­ject won the sup­port of the Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation and re­ceived vari­ances for use and park­ing from the ZBA — Sam­schick only has to provide 500 park­ing sports, rather than nearly three times that, as some op­pon­ents had hoped — but an ap­peal by a group of neigh­bors who live nearby the pro­ject is pending at the Court of Com­mon Pleas as of Oct. 21. Their ar­gu­ment? The pro­ject lacks ad­equate park­ing. Oth­er con­cerns about the zon­ing of the area also have the pro­ject on hold. 

In Janu­ary, Star wrote sev­er­al stor­ies about the seni­or hous­ing fa­cil­ity that the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia had pro­posed con­struct­ing with­in the ex­ist­ing struc­ture of the former Nativ­ity B.V.M. School on Port Rich­mond’s Camp­bell Square. 

After the school closed in 2008, the va­cant build­ing had been broken in­to or burg­lar­ized sev­er­al times and con­tin­ues to fall in­to dis­repair. Cath­ol­ic Health Care Ser­vices, a branch of the Arch­diocese, pro­posed con­vert­ing the school in­to res­id­en­tial hous­ing for seni­ors. 

It was awar­ded money for the pro­ject by the U.S.  De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment, it was ap­proved by the Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment and the Phil­adelphia City Plan­ning Com­mis­sion. 

Then, an ap­pel­lant took the case to the Com­mon­wealth Court of Pennsylvania, cit­ing park­ing as a pro­posed prob­lem in the pro­ject’s de­vel­op­ment, even though the Arch­diocese in­ten­ded to provide 20 to 30 on-street park­ing spaces.

Still, the ap­pel­lant would not drop the case. CHCS ap­pealed to the state Su­preme Court, which has re­cently agreed to hear the case, but it’s not clear when and, of course, wheth­er the pro­ject will ac­tu­ally come to fruition. 

Not every pro­pos­al for use of a va­cant build­ing or lot is a good one. Neigh­bors should ab­so­lutely be dis­crim­in­at­ing of their choices in what comes to their neigh­bor­hoods. They should ask ques­tions, de­mand an­swers, and con­sider how cer­tain busi­nesses or res­id­ences might after the land­scape of their com­munit­ies. 

However, if the main — or, really, only — con­cern re­gard­ing oth­er­wise ac­cep­ted and pos­it­ive de­vel­op­ment is how park­ing will be af­fected, it would be ir­re­spons­ible to delay or pre­vent such de­vel­op­ment.  

One River Wards pro­ject looks to be on the move, however, even in the face of ini­tial park­ing con­cerns.

At an Aug. 29 meet­ing of the Port Rich­mond Com­munity Group, ar­chi­tect Pla­to Mar­inakos, Jr. presen­ted plans for de­vel­op­ment at 3419 Rich­mond St. The de­veloper, George Manos­is, the same de­veloper re­spons­ible for 2424 Stu­di­os on York Street in Fishtown, seeks to de­vel­op a sim­il­ar fa­cil­ity on Rich­mond St. 

The va­cant build­ing on the site would house sev­er­al units which would be ren­ted out to vari­ous ten­ants — busi­nesses, shops, small com­pan­ies — just like 2424 Stu­di­os. Dur­ing the meet­ing, many res­id­ents were con­cerned about the park­ing avail­able at the site. The presen­ted plans only al­lowed for on-street park­ing.

Steph­en Pol­lock, the at­tor­ney for the 3419 Rich­mond St. de­vel­op­ment, told Star on the phone Fri­day that after dis­cus­sion with the com­munity fol­low­ing the PRCG meet­ing, the de­veloper and PRCG lead­er­ship worked with con­cerned com­munity mem­bers to help as­suage some of their wor­ries. At the PRCG meet­ing, Mar­inakos’ ar­gu­ment for why park­ing wouldn’t be an is­sue was that it hasn’t been a prob­lem at 2424 York St., and that people would be able to use pub­lic trans­it to get to the site. 

The de­vel­op­ment was ap­proved by the ZBA, and awaits zon­ing and build­ing per­mits. 

Said Pol­lock: “People were will­ing to go for it be­cause of the great­er good — [like] ‘let’s get something go­ing that kick­starts the neigh­bor­hood,’” he said. 

Here’s hop­ing that, for the River Wards’ sake, more pro­jects go the same way. ••

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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