When we last visited the vacant lot at the corner of 43rd & Baltimore, we detailed an exciting plan for a thoughtful and appropriate building that had evolved through a number of community meetings. The Clarkmore Group, with help from U3 Advisors and Cecil Baker Architects, came up with a glass, brick and stone panel building with 132 condos and rental apartments that would also include a large restaurant and a retail fitness center.
Months ago, it looked like the developers were getting ready to file for a zoning permit and go through the process to bring the project before the ZBA. But according to Inga Saffron, they're instead pursuing a City Council ordinance for fear that they won't be able to prove hardship, a necessary burden when you appear before the ZBA. Because the property is inappropriately zoned, the commercial elements and several other aspects of the project trigger refusals. By right, the developers can build a ninety-two unit building with tiny apartments and no retail. Obviously, that would be worse than this:
According to West Philly Local, community groups are reaching out to Councilwoman/"City Planner" Jannie Blackwell's office, asking her to introduce an ordinance to move this project forward. But she has apparently been completely unresponsive. If the Councilwoman doesn't introduce an ordinance for the project, it seems likely that the developers will scrap the plans that were so carefully imagined with the help of the neighborhood. If that happens, this corner, which has so much potential to add to the area, would turn into yet another utilitarian student housing building, like so many others that have sprung up in West Philly in the last several years. What a shame that would be indeed.
By the way, as Saffron also points out, if Blackwell would just introduce (for quick and easy passage) the University/Southwest Plan adopted by the Planning Commission in the summer of 2013, the zoning for this parcel would immediately become much more appropriate, and a stocky student housing building wouldn't be possible by right.
Isn't councilmanic prerogative wonderful?
Update: Councilwoman Blackwell spoke to Planphilly, and doesn't intend to introduce an ordinance. Instead, she wants the developers to go to the ZBA, where they believe they will get denied because they can't prove a hardship. Will they try anyway? Will they just build student housing by right? Will Blackwell change her mind? What a mess.