Several years ago Kensington and Fishtown were caught in a quagmire over a proposal by the Women’s Community Revitalization Project to demolish two bank buildings at the intersection of Front and Norris, near the Berks stop on the Market-Frankford Line, in order to build ultra-low income rental houses.
Neighbors on Hope Street, which is adjacent to this property, hastily formed a Registered Community Organization in response to the project in order to voice their objections over the lackluster design, which called for parking ramps on their no-parking street, the lack of ground floor commercial space as the property is zoned commercial, and that there was no intention to save what the neighborhood considers to be historic properties that are worth preservation, and indeed they are.
Well, the banks are going to see new life and will be saved from further decay. A. Jordan Rushie, Esq., who represented neighbors who challenged the proposed project in Common Pleas court and prevailed, had this to say:
Today is a great day for East Kensington and Fishtown. I am pleased to announce that the historic banks on Front & Norris Streets are being rescued by Onion Flats, an internationally known design and development firm with offices nearby.
As some of you my recall, it was a long and hard fought legal battle. Initially the ZBA allowed a developer to tear down the historic banks for ultra low income housing. A group of neighbors and civic associations filed an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas. Isaac Slepner represented Jesse Gardner, who submitted an amicus brief on the historic value of the buildings. I represented the civic associations and neighbors, and briefed the legal arguments with respect to the zoning issues.
Two years ago we stood in Judge Ellen Ceisler’s courtroom and explained why these two historic textile banks should be saved and repurposed. Chris Somers provided expert testimony on their value, and Jesse Gardner informed the judge that he was ready to purchase the banks that day should they come on the market. The people prevailed, and the gavel came down in our favor.
This final development proves once again that “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Onion Flats, a development group on West Norris St. that has had extensive experience with historic redevelopment projects in the area will restore and redevelop the bank buildings.
Since the court decision, WCRP was able to find vacant land for their project nearby in the Somerset area of Kensington.