Zoning approved for new North Philly police station

The ZBA unanimously approved the city’s proposal despite opposition from some residents.

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vacant lots

Vacant lots at the intersection of 21st and Diamond Streets in the Strawberry Mansion section of North Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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A disputed proposal to build a new station for the 22nd Police District in North Philadelphia has cleared a key hurdle.

On Wednesday, the Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously approved the use variances needed to construct the North Central Public Safety Building near Strawberry Mansion.

The $32.5 million project would sit on Diamond Street and include the new police station and a Police Athletic League (PAL) Center with an indoor basketball court and rooms for after-school study and recreation. There are also provisions for building a community and outdoor recreation space.

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The existing station for the 22nd Police District, located less than a mile away on North 17th Street, is considered one of the most rundown in the Philadelphia Police Department. City officials argue the new police station, a priority for former Council President Darrell Clarke, will promote community safety and improve police response times because of its central location.

The 22nd District is one of the city’s busiest, and runs from 10th Street to 33rd Street and from Poplar Street to Lehigh Avenue.

The city needed zoning approvals for the project because officials want to use a pair of adjacent lots for parking and a fueling station.

A spokesperson with the Philadelphia Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The proposal was widely supported by the registered community organization for the area, but it got a more mixed reaction from residents during a ZBA hearing held right before the holidays.

While some residents called the project a “great resource” for the community, others panned the proposal, saying a modern public safety complex should not be built within the Diamond Street Historic District. Established in 1986, the roughly mile-long district runs between Broad and Van Pelt Streets and features architecturally significant rowhomes and churches dating back to the late 19th Century.

“If I thought this place would be of value to my grandchildren and the community, I would be so happy,” said longtime community activist Judith Robinson. “But this is a historic corridor.”

Other community members discussed more recent neighborhood history while expressing their opposition, zeroing in on police-community relations in the neighborhood. They stressed the need for low-income housing over another police station.

“When you have people who have been redlined, disrespected, and discriminated against and treated as trash, you’re just giving them another excuse not to trust not just the city, not just the police, but the process,” said block captain Gail Loney, who lives around the corner from the proposed site.

Wednesday’s vote comes more than a month after a city panel upheld the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s vote to approve the proposal.

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In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd sparked protests and fierce community opposition, the commission denied a similar proposal at the same location that did not include a PAL Center, in part because it found the project was not a good fit for the residential neighborhood, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

A city spokesperson said construction is expected to begin this summer and is slated to take two years to complete.

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