After Successful Appeal, Lawsonia Building Will Be Demolished

As we were writing about the upcoming project at 10th & Spring Garden yesterday, we visited the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation website to see whether the organization had posted any info about how the community responded to the project. We came up empty on that front, unfortunately. But we did discover something else of interest on the PCDC website, a reference to a significant project in the pipeline for the 1100 block of Spring Garden. Looking at the address, 1106 Spring Garden St., we soon realized that this referred to the Lawsonia building, a property we last covered four years ago.

View of the building in 2013

When we last covered the Lawsonia building, we told you that developers would be constructing a three-story addition atop the existing building, a plan that called for 40 apartments, ground-floor retail, and 17 parking spots. The ZBA approved the project in 2014, but the decision was promptly appealed by the Pastor of the Chosen 300 Ministry, located immediately next door. The ministry provides services to the homeless and court documents indicate that the Pastor specifically located the ministry in an industrial area because of a belief that residential areas were “not very accepting of the homeless” and that an apartment building next door would impact his ability to “minister to the homeless with dignity and respect.” The Court of Common Pleas upheld the variance, but the Commonwealth Court overturned the variance in the summer of 2015, suggesting that the developers didn’t sufficiently express a hardship argument. It’s because the variance was overturned that we didn’t get something like this:

Elevations drawing of the project that's not happening

So… you’re probably wondering what we’ll be getting instead. Let’s just say that the law of unintended consequences is in full effect here. Somewhere along the line, the property was rezoned from Industrial to CMX-2.5, which honestly is a much more appropriate zoning classification for this location. Because of the new zoning, the developers are now able to build a mixed-use building by right. But instead of preserving the existing building and constructing an addition, they’ll be demolishing the building and starting from scratch. This is indeed a shame, as the building has some attractive architectural features and has a pretty interesting history, to boot.

Instead of 40 units, the developers are going for 52 units. They’ve totally removed the parking element from the project. And as we mentioned, they’re able to build the project entirely by right, with the toothless CDR process as the only barrier to immediate groundbreaking. We feel for the Pastor at the ministry next door, who we have to think had pure intentions in trying to block the project, believing it would hamper him from pursuing his organization’s mission. Unfortunately, that effort was only successful in the short term and will now result in the demolition of a nice old building. We’re somewhat cheered that the new building will be a nice addition to a growing mixed-use corridor, but we would have still much preferred the previous iteration.