If the fight over the use of one little Bustleton house were a reality TV show, it would be called Zoning Wars. So far, there have been several episodes, and another is in production now.
In the latest, Philadelphia’s Zoning Board of Adjustment denied a variance application that would allow the owner of a Haldeman Avenue home to make dental retainers in the residentially zoned property, according to the president of the Greater Bustleton Civic League. The owner’s lawyer said his client will go to court to appeal that decision.
In an Aug. 6 email, league president Jack O’Hara told members the zoners have reversed their 2012 decision to allow Flore Andresi a three-year variance to continue handcrafting dental retainers at 9997 Haldeman Ave. The league has long opposed Andresi’s application, maintaining that permitting his business to operate in a house threatens the residential character of the street.
Andresi’s attorney, Shawn Ward, stated Friday that his client has directed him to appeal to the Court of Common Pleas to reverse the zoning board’s latest decision. Ward has argued that the house near the busy intersection of Haldeman and Red Lion Road, a bank and a fast-food restaurant is not suitable as a residence, so Andresi should be allowed to continue his business there.
The league’s involvement in the process began in fall 2012. Andresi needed a variance to operate legally so he had asked the league to support his application. Instead, the organization’s members voted overwhelmingly to oppose it. In November 2012, that opposition didn’t stop zoning board members from giving Andresi his variance — but just for three years.
Urged on by City Councilman Brian O’Neill (R-10th dist.), league members took the zoning board to court and won. In July 2013, Common Pleas Court sent the case back to the zoners, instructing them that the applicant must prove “hardship,” which means he had to show the property could be used only for his business. Andresi finally got his hearing on July 23.
The ZBA denied Andresi’s application on July 29. When O’Hara announced the zoners’ decision to league members, he told them Andresi could file an appeal. That’s going to happen, Ward wrote in an Aug. 8 email to the Northeast Times.
“We believe we successfully demonstrated that given the location of the subject property at one of the busiest corners in Northeast Philadelphia, surrounded by commercial establishments, and tremendously intense traffic, requiring strict compliance to the residential use standards of the Zoning Code will result in an unnecessary hardship to the property,” Ward wrote. “The present circumstances render the property practically useless as a residential dwelling as nobody will wish to use this property as such.”
During the July 23 hearing, Ward presented an expert witness, suburban real estate agent Karen Doorley, who said the property wasn’t suitable as a house. Ward pointed out Andresi’s house is next to a Wendy’s restaurant and across the street from a bank.
Jared Klein, who represented the league, didn’t dispute the location of nearby businesses, but said the remainder of the block is made up of residences. Klein also said the property has all the makings of a residential use. Andresi had testified that he had lived in the home. “Someone can live in this house,” Klein said. “There is no hardship.”
“We believe that the testimony of Mr. Andresi and our expert witness clearly demonstrated that this property is uniquely situated and does not share similar characteristics of other homes on Haldeman Avenue,” Ward said in his Aug. 8 email. “It is clearly a mischaracterization to claim that the handcrafting of dental retainers using common household hand tools, wire and acrylic products is tantamount to a manufacturing plant or facility as claimed by the Greater Bustleton Civic League.”
During the July 23 ZBA hearing, board member Samuel Staten Jr. suggested the zoners had backed Andresi in 2012 because he was a small businessman who was living in the building, and, since there had been no complaints about the business, the board was inclined to give him three years to keep operating and find another location. However, when board members learned Andresi no longer lived in the building, their attitudes seemed to change.
Staten said he said yes to the applicant in 2012 because he believed he was living on the property, and zoning board member Greg Pastore said zoners believed Andresi’s business was an accessory use to his residence.
Although O’Hara said he knew the war could go on, he was very pleased the league won this last battle.
“This decision is a significant accomplishment for the GBCL and we are all truly grateful for the outcome,” O’Hara wrote in his email. “The residents of Bustleton showed their commitment and determination in preserving and protecting our long established residential areas as they were designed. It took a lot of strength for our community to challenge a ZBA ruling and we should all feel very proud of the victory.”
After conferring with his client, Ward said it’s not over.
“I believe that the Zoning Board misapplied the standard for the grant of a variance in this case as the proper test is not whether the property ‘can be used’ as a single family dwelling,” Ward wrote. “Rather, the proper test is, given its unique characteristics, whether the property will likely, or ever, be used as a single-family dwelling. We submit that it will not, as the property sat vacant for several years while being actively marketed for sale. No testimony or evidence was presented to the contrary to rebut our position. Accordingly, zoning relief is necessary to afford reasonable use of the property.”
O’Hara said he “was not entirely surprised” by Andresi’s decision to take his case to court. The league president said he will discuss the case with his members at their Sept. 17 session. The league holds no membership meetings in July or August.
He said his members have been “pretty consistent” in maintaining and fighting for their neighborhood’s residential character. “I don’t think that will change.”
Stay tuned. ••