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.
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. ••