Congratulations Fishtown! You’ve Unlocked the Fairmount Parking Achievement



Well Fishtown, you’ve done it.   It happened to Society Hill nearly a day after Edmund Bacon finished laying the last brick when the neighborhood was demolished and rebuilt.

It happened to Bella Vista and Queen Village 10 years ago.

It happened to Fairmount 15 years ago.

And that is: Parking NIMBYism.

Parking NIMBYism if anyone isn’t familiar with it is a form of anti-development attitude that revolves around this:  I can’t park in front of my house/block/comfort-zone because there’s never a space there so until I can find a parking spot, all development should come to a halt until more parking is available.

NIMBYism isn’t really the correct word to use to describe this logic.  The more approporate pejorative is people who have gone BANANAs.  That is Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody.

The evidence that Fishtown has come to this point has risen mainly from this year’s spate of zoning cases before the ZBA, and parking dominating every single zoning meeting.

Tuesday evening it came to a head in the form of two buildings before FNA Zoning: the Columbia Avenue hosiery factory (which will have the required parking under code for the number of proposed units), and the REACH baseball factory, another fire-hazard VLCIP property in Fishtown whose building and lot are of the same dimensions which ironically is bordered by a large parking lot which doesn’t belong to the developer, and the owner of the parking lot is not willing to share spaces with the development.

Clearly the Parking NIMBYs do not believe that car-free people actually exist and are not convinced that there actually is such a thing as Transit-oriented development, unless it’s an apartment that opens directly up to a station platform.

Invariably like the other aforementioned neighborhoods where development has virtually filled-in all the blank spaces in a neighborhood, the only development opportunities remaining are to demolish and rebuild; or to renovate existing structures.  This causes rowhouse neighborhoods to return to density levels not seen since the tightly packed rowhouses were first built in the age of streetcars and horse carriages, and at levels that no resident alive has actually ever experienced or seen [Is there anyone living in Fairmount or Fishtown today that remembers when these neighborhoods were near fully built-out by 1880?]

This creates unusual twists for developers.  One of them is the irresistible urge, if it’s possible on a project, to “bribe” key community residents with reserved parking in their development in exchange for their support.

The Newmarket site off South Street has been the most notorious examples of blight-by-agreement with numerous proposals (including one from none other than Philly’s clean rapper and movie star Will Smith) to develop the former Newmarket site.   Toll Brothers finally won approval from the RCO to develop the site, complete with Toll’s notoriety for the most blandest designs, squat forms and cheapest facades possible, but with a 110-space parking garage as part of the deal, that gives room for 21 unconnected rowhome dwellers to continue their fight to keep reserved parking spaces they managed to get ages ago when the Rusty Scupper parking garage used to sit on the site.

In Society Hill, having a deed itself is pretty valuable, but having a deed that also includes the right for a permanent never-ending lease to a covered parking spot?   That’s worth another $100K.  Minimum.   So in a way by making development more difficult, parking rightenousness actually raises property values, which then raises dreaded property taxes.

Parking NIMBYs would prefer that the developer abandon his projects and just leave.   One resident at the Fishtown zoning meeting suggested alternative uses besides apartments.  “What about a pharmacy?”    That’s a nice thought, since commercial uses also create parking needs.

What about what the dead fire-trap factory is already zoned for:  as industrial?   Philadelphia’s new Zoning Code certainly permits factories to re-open and continue their original purposes without the need for zoning variances because they are by right uses.

Let’s say the people who make NERF baseballs want the building for its zoning and will happily install a rubber ball factory that requires 80 employees.  Many who live outside Philly.  Who have cars.   And will park in front of residents’ homes…

Don’t park here. Unless you can color inside the lines.

Fishtown Neighbors Association wound up voting in favor of both projects.  But as evidenced by both nuanced and naked threats by residents who simply do not believe that car-less people exist, I can guarantee that this won’t be the last of it, and I’m sure residents are willing to blow a collective 5-figure sum in legal appeals to see if they can keep their factories as empty crumbling fire-traps towering over their homes.

  • Christopher Sawyer

    Time for the NIMBYs to hold those beef and beers, because for not one but two zoning appeals on separate tracks it’s going to cost into the low five figures at minimum in legal fees, and that’s using a good experienced zoning attorney. A fly-by-night one will cost less but will get crushed by the pros when it gets to Commonwealth.

    P.S. :
    32-Y, 48-N
    75-Y, 29-N
    107-Y, 77-N

    1421-27 E Columbia
    34-Y, 44-N
    81-Y, 28-N
    115-Y, 72-N

  • JaneDoeTaxpayer

    A plethora of car-less people wanting to move into Philadelphia only exists in the minds of the hipsters because they think it’s, well, hip to be anti-car and of course, because they are so environmental; the developers, who are too cheap to factor in at least 2 – 1 parking ratio (2 units, one car); and the City who will prostitute itself to anyone willing to spend some money .. anywhere. When there were fully built out row houses, the density was less and there were many, many carriage houses and other places where carriages and horses were kept (the precursor of garages, if you will). If you want to load a neighborhood with a lot of multi-family dwellings and triple or even quadruple the density, THEN YOU NEED PARKING! It’s just that simple. The NIMBY’s are right. Everyone likes parking. Get over it.

    • Christopher Sawyer

      The Tulip factory takes up 100% of its lot. So where do you propose the parking to go? The building was not designed to take vehicle loads and would cost about a mil to reinforce the columns and also the floors from the elements, oil drip and road salt that will eat away at the structure, and it still wouldn’t hold enough cars/bedroom ratio. It’s not a new building, it’s an old one. And old one that until just recently was a VLCIP that had dubious speculators owning it that will gladly disappear should anything majorly bad happens that causes property damage or loss of life, ala the Kensington Fire.

      So I guess what you’re REALLY saying is, it’s OK for the building to stay decrepit as it is, and if it goes up in flames and takes out a few neighborhood homes with it ala the Kensington Fire, everyone’s cool with that.

      Call me when someone proposes to dig out Palmer Cemetery and move it so it can be turned into a surface lot littered with Arctic Splash containers and Doritos chip bags.

      • Christopher Wink

        I am all for urban density and love that Reach is being redeveloped, but I don’t understand why concerns about having no parking strategy is is equated with a NIMBY attitude.

        There’s a balance to be had. As a bicycle commuter and SEPTA rider, I know there are car-less residents, but that seems to me to argue for a *smaller* parking strategy, not none at all.

        There is a long vacant former parking lot at Frankford and Palmer that should surely be developed into something more than a parking lot, but just two blocks away there is an opportunity to create some kind of plan for the inevitability that *someone* in this 30-person unit will add to a neighborhood that also has a driving community.

        Again, I agree that parking shouldn’t be a reason to STOP development, but I don’t know why that means it shouldn’t be at least part of the conversation.


  • Kill Wolfhead

    Glad it passed. I truly hate how the NIMBYs are with their parking. My favorites are the ones to complain, yet own 3 or 4 cars to their household. I also love that the same NIMBYs that complain when they have to search for parking, are the same that suddenly close off an entire block for their parties without notifying neighbors.

    • Christopher Sawyer

      It didn’t pass. RCO votes don’t translate to permit variance grants. The ZBA hearing is where the decisionmaking actually begins. The local vote at FNA was actually against the project. The ZBA will ignore the community vote. You can guarantee that a chunk of the loyal opposition will be present at the ZBA hearing on JFK when the projects are called by the board for presentation on their variance requests. Chances are excellent that no matter which way the ZBA rules, the matter will head directly to the courts thereafter.

  • Guest

    Have you checked as to why the “owner of the neighboring parking is not willing to share spaces?” I did. Their phone # is on the side of the building. I think you’d be surprised to find out how much of the venom thrown at Memphis Flats regarding parking and trash are simply not true.

  • sacmcdonald

    I’m not really sure why someone has to be a “NIMBY” because they’d rather this project factor in off-street parking – ideally, a single driveway that leads to a common parking area or individual garages.

    That’s not anti-development. Nor is it because I believe car-less people don’t exist. It’s because there is no guarantee car-less people will live there. It’s because what likely will happen is that people who live there will own cars but not use them very much, and so they’ll sit on the street for long periods of time. It’s not because I want a parking spot, but because I’d rather not see more congestion on the street. There are great examples in the neighborhood of new housing with discreet off-street parking and bike storage.

    Turning this vacant building into housing is a wonderful opportunity for the neighborhood. Quite frankly, I’m surprised and disappointed to see the ignorant comments in your post. By expressing your opinion in with such a rude and dismissive tone, you sound like the “NIMBYs” you think you’re describing.

    I’m all for discussion and debate about issues like this that affect neighborhoods all over the city. I’d rather it be less about insulting and generalizing and more about finding ways to prevent neighborhood polarization.

    About my parking habits: I’m a part-time Fishtown resident, but will become full-time this summer. Single family home. I have a car I use a couple times a week. I park it certain places (side of schools, churches, cemeteries, vacant buildings) to avoid leaving it in front of someone’s house who might have groceries to carry in, have a handicap or have small kids. My way isn’t necessarily the best, but it’s the best solution I’ve come up with for myself to be respectful of all my neighbors. I use the same approach when I visit other neighbors. I frequently ride my bike and prefer that there be fewer parked cars on streets because it decreases my chances of being doored or knocked over by a driver who doesn’t signal. It also just looks nicer to have fewer cars in front of houses.