By Matt Blanchard
Two days after a bitterly divided Society Hill rejected the 15-story Stamper Square proposal, Councilman Frank DiCicco is stepping into the fray.
This Thursday, DiCicco intends to introduce legislation that will rezone the property to a higher zoning classification, either C3 or C4. The property, a vacant lot once home to the failed NewMarket shopping mall, is now zoned C2. (see attached zoning designations below)
“The councilman is intending to introduce legislation that would allow the project to move forward, and subsequently, he’ll hold public hearings,” said DiCicco aide Brian Abernathy. “This has been a contentious enough project that it’s time to have an open conversation.”
Whether or not conversations in Society Hill have been open, they’ve certainly been energetic. Seven hours of public debate came down to a 12-to-12 vote of the local civic association on Wednesday night, meaning the project has so far failed to win decisive support among its influential neighbors.
“We see a community that is torn,” Abernathy said.
Abernathy said DiCicco had not taken a firm position on the project, but believes that in concept it is “worthy.” The legislation introduced on Thursday will remap the parcel, but the decision between C3 and C4 has not been made.
“We’re going to wait and see how the public hearings go,” Abernathy said.
Current Zoning Defended
The current zoning of C2 restricts the street-front height of a building to 35 feet, while allowing structures as tall as 60 feet near the center of the site.
The latest Stamper Square proposal by Bridgeman Development calls for a 4-star hotel and luxury condos in a 166-foot tower on the Front Street side of the site. There are rare height restrictions in C3. In very limited cases, C4 allows for structures of 500 to 700 feet.
DiCicco’s move was just a rumor in Society Hill on Friday, but it had both opponents and supporters of the project sounding wary.
Attorney Matthew White, a leader of support for the project on the Civic Association board, said the board was adamant about defending its zoning code.
“As a board member, I can say the board is clearly not in favor of rezoning, and I can’t imagine any set of circumstances in which it would be,” White said. “It would get the project built, but the community loses control over the situation.”
White, who had not yet heard the move was definite, said he’d prefer the councilman use his influence to sway board members or help the project secure a variance.
Project opponent Richard Lush was equally unequivocal: “Our zoning has protected our neighborhood for more than 40 years. It’s part of the reason we have the highest property values in the city.”
According to campaign finance reports from March and April of 2007, Frank DiCicco’s election campaign received $5,000 from Sant Properties, which owns the site, and $2,500 from developer Marc Stein, a principle with Bridgeman.
“I’m sure they’ve been contributors in the past, but that certainly is not going into our decision making,” Abernathy said.
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