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…
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.