Billiards proposal for 12th and Chestnut passes city council

A former grand old bank at Chestnut and 12th streets is on its way to becoming a fancy pool hall.

City Council Thursday approved zoning legislation that allows the billiards club, to be known as 1200 Bank, to operate.

The legislation, proposed by First District Councilman Frank DiCicco, had 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.

Washington Square West Civic supported the development, too, although the board would have preferred that the zoning relief Giegerich needed was achieved through a zoning board of adjustment variance instead of an ordinance. WashWest never voted on the ordinance itself.

1200 Bank is connected with Amsterdam Billiards in New York City. The first floor, which is about 5,000 square feet, is to be home to 17 pool tables, a bar and a restaurant. The upper floor will provide extra space for any overflow of diners, and will also be rentable banquet space for private parties. A roof deck bar with a retractable roof is also part of the plan.

Originally, relief was sought through the ZBA, but residents who oppose the development said they would appeal any ZBA approval, which would tie up the project. So, the developer sought help from City Council.

At the Rules Committee hearing on the bill, 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.

At the same hearing, John Kaskey, an attorney and resident of the White Building condominiums across the street from the former bank, 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.

The developer has promised to construct an 8-foot wall along 12th Street to keep any sound from the outdoor bar from wafting over to residences, but Kaskey and others are not convinced their lives won’t be disrupted. At the rules hearing, Kaskey said there was “not a chance in the world that there is not going to be a noise problem.” Kaskey said then he would sue if the bill passed council.

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