Fishtown Neighbors: We’re Sick of the ZBA

Why bother with civic associations when the ZBA doesn’t give two shits?

It looks like Fishtown Neighbors Association has just about had it with the Zoning Board of Adjustment and their recent months of ignoring community input completely.

Here’s the letter.

From: “FNA President”
Date: Jun 15, 2017 17:27
Subject: ZBA Issues/1217 E Columbia Ave
To: “James Kenney”
Cc: “Darrell Clarke”

Mayor Kenny,

I am writing to you this afternoon regarding a recent ZBA decision to “hold” for review the project at 1217 E Columbia Ave, 19125. Once a project is “held” in this manner, it is almost always approved behind closed doors without further opportunity for input from anyone other than the developer.

I attended the RCO Zoning Meeting for this project, wherein the developer proposed to build an enormous six-unit apartment building on a lot zoned RSA5/Single Family. The meeting was packed with immediate neighbors who were very concerned about the size and density of the project and the detrimental impact it would have on the community. Not only was the size and density an issue, overbearing height, lack or rear yards, and off-street parking were also major issues. It was voted down 45-1 in opposition.

As noted in our letter of opposition (attached), a financial hardship was given for the multifamily use. The developer stated in the meeting the lot was purchased for 250K. The lot is large enough for the developer to build TWO single family homes side by side, by right, which have been selling for $600-800k in Fishtown recently. For the developer to come before community with this project and indicate that return of less than $1 Million as his only hardship is insulting; that the ZBA would allow it to move forward without a real hardship is unconscionable.

A quick review of the attached letter, which was properly submitted to the ZBA per RCO guidelines, will reveal that this project flies in the face of the Zoning Code and the wishes of the community. I am fully aware that the role of the local RCO is an advisory one, however, we would expect the ZBA to take our input seriously. Input like this is after all why the RCO process was written into the Zoning Code that you voted for as a member of City Council. It appears the ZBA ignored the letter and its contents, and as such we may need to send a delegate to every ZBA hearing to ensure our letter is read into the record – which seems a tad much but necessary given the circumstances.

Our Zoning Committee is one of the strongest in the City of Philadelphia. The Planning Commission uses our letters as examples when holding their RCO Training sessions on zoning matters. Our tireless volunteers have spent many hundreds, if not thousands of hours holding zoning meetings in an effort to uphold the Zoning Code in an area of the city that has seen record development in recent years. Despite these facts, the troubling trend of ZBA decisions overruling overwhelming community opposition makes us wonder why the RCO process exists, if not as a placebo to satiate our need for input in the process.

As the sole individual in the City of Philadelphia with any sway over the ZBA, I humbly request that you contact Chair DiCicco and ask that he deny these variances. Not only because this project an excellent example of a developer flaunting the code, but because failure to deny variances with no real hardship undermines the code and the RCO process entirely.

I sincerely hope you would consider meeting with myself and our zoning chair Matt Karp in the near future to discuss this ZBA trend; if this project moves forward it would be the fifth time this year the ZBA has overruled community opposition to a project without any reasonable hardship. When you and I exchanged pleasantries at our Chili Cookoff at the Fillmore in April, you expressed how important the work of local RCOs are to the City. I hope that we can continue to count on your support.

Thank you for your time and consideration of these issues that are incredibly important to the Fishtown community and the City at large.

Sincerely,

Ian Wilson

President

Fishtown Neighbors Association