AAA Plays the Dangerous Game of Building Under Appeal

For quite some time, Campenella Construction made their home at 1601 S. Columbus Blvd., and in more recent years their property was available for sale. For the last couple of years however, this site has been ground zero for a war of sorts between AAA, Pennsport Civic Association, the Planning Commission, L&I, and the Central Delaware Advocacy Group.

In the past

Current view, under construction

Here's some background on this confusing situation for those who are not familiar, with thanks to Plan Philly for explaining it in fairly simple terms. Two years ago, the day before the Central Delaware Zoning Overlay went into effect, AAA applied for a zoning permit for a garage and insurance office. L&I first issued a permit and then later rescinded it when they realized that AAA needed to go before the Planning Commission to for a Plan of Development review. At the review, the Planning Commission shot down their project. Two weeks ago, AAA went to the Court of Common Pleas, appealing this decision. Despite the fact that the project is currently tied up in the courts, construction has gotten underway, as you can see. The building, if it's ever completed, would look like this:

Project rendering. Image from Plan Philly.

This story is fascinating to us. Let's agree that this section of Columbus Blvd. is far from paradise. It's got gas stations, big box stores, a miserable Comcast office, strip clubs, and warehouses that are actually being used as warehouses. So it seems a little strange to us that so many people are making such a significant effort to fight a business that would be a step up from many of the places that already exist here.

Looking down Columbus Blvd.

On the other hand, Rome wasn't built in a day. The people fighting for the future of the Delaware waterfront aren't focused on the lousy present, they're looking at a shiny tomorrow. The whole point of the now two-year-old zoning overlay from a couple of years ago was to prevent crappy uses on the waterfront and improve neighborhood connections to the river. And while this project certainly isn't the worst thing we could imagine, it looks a whole lot more like the present than it looks like the future. This explains why so many people who care about the waterfront are fighting against it so aggressively.

As for AAA, they may have a big problem on their hands if the court doesn't rule in their favor. With construction underway, they've spent real dollars on a project they may not be legally permitted to finish. What a mess.

As an aside, if AAA isn't able to build what they want to build here and they decide to sell their property, what would people like to see here? Does anyone know what would be permitted under the overlay?