Bill that would allow an old bank to become a billiards parlor heads to full council

A proposed zoning bill that would allow the conversion of a former bank at Chestnut and 12th Streets into a fancy pool hall passed out of City Council’s Rules Committee Wednesday and heads to full council for a vote.

The legislation, proposed by First District Councilman Frank DiCicco, has the support of the Planning Commission, the Historical Commission and Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia Executive Director John Gallery.

DiCicco likes Developer Paul Giegerich’s concept because it brings new life and jobs to the former Beneficial Bank building, which has been vacant and a hang-out for homeless people. Gallery likes it because it largely preserves a historically important structure. The white columned building went up in 1916. It was designed by noted Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer, whose work also includes The Philadelphia Art Museum, The Free Library and Irvine Auditorium on the University of Pennsylvania campus. See previous coverage.

Washington Avenue West Civic supports the project “in accordance with the proviso agreement we negotiated with 1200 Bank” developers, said association vice chairman Carl Engelke in an email after the hearing. “While we would have preferred that it not be done by ordinance, I am satisfied by the Planning Commission’s assessment that this will not allow bad ‘by right’ development on the 1200 block of Chestnut.” The association took no position on the actual ordinance.

But some residents of the White Building condominiums across the street from the former bank are very unhappy with the proposal. Resident John Kaskey, an attorney, called the bill “a blatant case of unconstitutional spot zoning” that would allow a pool hall this close to people’s homes only in this one spot. He said there was “not a chance in the world that there is not going to be a noise problem” from the bar on the roof-top deck. Kaskey, who at one point got into a heated argument with DiCiccio, said he will sue if the bill passes council.

City Planner Martin Gregorski testified that while the planning commission does not normally recommend piecemeal amendments to the Zoning Code, the amendments are consistent with changes being proposed in the new code, anyway.

Project Attorney Ron Patterson of Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg described the project, called 1200 Bank. It is connected with Amsterdam Billiards in New York City. The first floor, which is about 5,000 square feet, would be home to 17 pool tables, a bar and a restaurant. The upper floor would provide extra space for any overflow of diners, but would also be rentable banquet space for private parties. There would be an 8-foot wall constructed along 12th Street to keep any sound from the outdoor bar from wafting over to residences, Patterson said.

Another attorney who said he represents additional White Building residents said that Patterson’s claims that any sound would be blocked from going across the street were a “bold representation,” but his clients have had trouble getting Patterson to agree to standards to measure noise, which would allow them to “enforce that promise.”

DiCicco said that the developer has shown a willingness to work with residents over the past year or so that the project has been in discussion. He said the roof deck was originally going to be open, but now will have a roof that can be closed. And he said the east wall will be opaque, so that bar-goers can’t see into windows and White Building residents won’t have to look at the bar.


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