Fishtown music venue moving forward despite legal appeals

It’s been an up-and-down week for Michael Samschick.

On Tuesday night, the developer saw his plans for 200 new apartments on North Delaware Avenue rejected by the Fishtown Neighbors Association by a two-to-one margin. But on Thursday morning, he was back in the neighborhood, standing in the sunshine outside the old Ajax Metal building while Mayor Michael Nutter helped unveil plans for a new Live Nation venue there, part of Samschick’s ongoing Canal Street North development project.

Samschick began putting plans for the venue together a few years ago, enlisting Interface Studio to develop a master plan for a string of properties he owns along the Delaware Avenue Corridor. The master plan was approved by the Planning Commission, with provisos requiring more parking, and variances for some of the individual components were approved the Zoning Board of Adjustment in May of 2013.

Neighbors soon appealed those variances, including the decision on 1000 Frankford Avenue, the Ajax building where the Live Nation venue is planned. The Court of Common Pleas denied the appeal for that variance, and a second appeal is now pending before the Commonwealth Court. That case could be heard sometime this summer.

Moving forward while the appeals are still pending is a worthwhile risk, Samschick told PlanPhilly on Thursday, surrounded by dozens of castaways from every rock-and-roll scene of the last half-century who’d gathered for the unveiling. He said he’d secured parking space under Interstate 95 which hadn’t been available before, and feels confident that he’ll win the legal battle.

On the other side of that fight are Jethro Heiko, who owns a house near the Ajax building, and Paul Boni, his attorney. Heiko and Boni are both also veterans of the anti-casino fight of the last decade. Boni said on Thursday afternoon that he and Heiko have also sued the city over a bill that removed the properties from a zoning overlay that bans new nightclubs on Delaware Avenue, saying the bill constitutes illegal spot zoning.

“Our goal is to try to get this thing built,” First District Councilman Mark Squilla told PlanPhilly at the time the bill was introduced, referring to Samschick’s project. “Unfortunately, there’s [a few] neighbors that want to blow it up.”

Those neighbors were nowhere to be seen on Thursday, as midday fireworks and confetti burst from the roof of the Ajax Building while—how could I make this up?—Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba” played over the speakers.

Samschick said he hoped the venue would be finished by the end of the year.

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