One lot: Three potential developers

The Garden Court Community Association’s Zoning Committee hosted a community meeting to discuss the sale of the city owned lot at 49th and Spruce Streets, at the Beulah Baptist Church on Monday, February 28th. Mary Allegra, President of Garden Court moderated the meeting.

Members of the Walnut Hill Community Association were also in attendance since the parking lot borders on neighborhoods represented by both community associations.

“The parking lot has been in a state of disrepair for some time,” said Marty Cabry of Councilwoman Janie Blackwell’s Office. According to Cabry, given its state, if the city is not able to sell it, “then it would be cordoned off to prevent future use for the purpose of safety.”

Cabry’s explanation over the lots eminent closure, even if it doesn’t sell, came in response to concerns voiced by many residents who rely on it in a neighborhood where parking remains scarce.

“At this stage,” Cabry went on to explain, “we want to know what the developers plan to build and whether members of the community support or reject those plans.”

The lot, 27,000 square feet in size is being sold by the City for $300,000 plus. If the city’s current abatements remain in place, then the developer who received the contract will receive tax breaks for years to come. But, said Cabry in response a question posed by the UC Review’s Editor Bob Christian, “those tax abatements are in jeopardy with the current budget.”

The three perspective plans presented by developmeners ranged in style, scope and type. They included: George Levin who with architect Herb Scott and Asian restaurateur Tyler Ophso plan to construct a mixed use building of commercial offices as well as a Pan Asian Restaurant and apartments for senior citizens or veterans. Then there was Alan Casnoff and Peter Shaw of P & A, who plan to design a one-story commercial building with only one tenant. There was also Paul Hallowell who, depending on the outcome of the community’s feedback will remain open to constructing anything that the neighborhood supports from residential to commercial to a building with a mixed-use purpose.

The community’s reaction to the proposed projects varied in degrees of muted hostility to skepticism.

With regard to the proposed mixed-use commercial and residential building that would also contain a “Pan-Asian” restaurant, residents wanted to know how much parking the site would provide as well as how many stories the developers planned to build. According to the project’s architect Herb Scott, “the building would provide some on-site parking.”

As for how many the its height—the neighborhood is currently zoned for four-five stories– Scott responded, “We will get what we can get a variance for…though we do not intend to build something that will cast a shadow [over the surrounding streets].”

When it came to addressing concerns expressed over the one-story commercial building, P & A’s Alan Casnoff explained that neither Whole Foods or Trader Joes would build a store there because the lot did not provide enough room for either store’s business model. Casnoff’s response results from the fact that while the team remains open to other retail suggestions, it proposed a food market because the community has expressed the need for more stores “with fresh produce.”

Some in attendance did not believe that that P & A would actually limit itself to a one-story commercial structure. But argued Casnoff, since they want to provide enough parking for the store’s customers, an additional floor would only create the need for more parking spots. And the lot, said Casnoff, does not have the room for more parking.

One resident then offered the suggestion that instead of constructing a new supermarket, P & A should build a Starbucks. Said Casnoff, “they’re only 1,300 square feet.” If we P & A built a store with that limited square footage, then it would be forced to build a strip of stores, explained Casnoff, adding, “and we do not think that’s what the community wants.”

As for concerns regarding the openness of Hallowell’s proposal, those in attendance required reassurance that he was in fact willing to build what would most compliment the community’s wishes in terms of a residential, commercial or mixed-use structure.”

“One thing I don’t want is another fish or hoagie spot,” said a local woman. “And you don’t want students from West Philly High coming over to your businesses to break windows,” the woman continued.

Article originally posted on March 2nd by Nicole Contosta via University City review

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