A couple of weeks ago, we checked in on 2300 South Street, letting you know that a continuation of the marathon ZBA hearing for this project would be taking place yesterday. In case you're new to the conversation, this project proposes the demolition of the current buildings on the southwest corner of 23rd & South and the construction of a new mixed-use building on the corner. This building would be 46' tall over four stories, and would include eighteen apartments and some sizeable first floor commercial space. The developer is Jason Nusbaum, who owns a bunch of rentals in town along with a couple of supermarkets. The developer is looking for variances for the height of the building, which is eight feet taller than is permitted by the zoning code, along with the number of units. He's proposing five more than are allowed by right.
In October, a three hour hearing at the ZBA was interrupted, and yesterday another three-plus-hour hearing took place. For the first hour, the developer's attorney took testimony from representatives from the City and a planner who believed the project to be a good fit for the corner. Afterward, a legion of folks from the neighborhood gave their testimony, including a group of people who have hired an attorney to fight the development, a representative from the South Street West Civic association, and a number of people in support of the project as well.
The project has created a whirlwind of controversy in the neighborhood, pitting neighbors who are most concerned about traffic and parking against neighbors who see an opportunity for a placemaking development and don't believe that the additional density is bad for the intersection. We can, to a certain extent, see both sides. It's true that the project could make things a little more congested for people living in the area today. On the other hand, the people who live there today will be gone at some point, and the proposed project is far better than what the developer could do by right. By right, from what we can tell, the developer can subdivide the lot into four and build two triplexes with small commercial spaces and two quadplexes with slightly larger commercial spaces. The unified commercial space would clearly be a better fit for the burgeoning South Street West corridor.
At the end of the day, the passion with which some people are fighting this development is really astonishing to us. Opponents of the project repeatedly said that they didn't oppose development at this corner, they just opposed this particular project because of the height and the density. That people have gotten so worked up over eight feet and five units seems like a an overreaction, especially considering the number of taller-than-by-right projects that have been approved within a couple of blocks of this location.
Unfortunately, we don't think that the ZBA was convinced by the developer or the supporters of the project that the variances should be granted. Whether they were or not, we're confident that this project will be getting appealed and will be held up in the courts for years to come. Which is a real shame, because the proposed project would sure look better than what we see on the site today. But hey, this is why we can't have nice things, Philadelphia.