Zoning Board hears arguments over Jewelers’ Row permits, continues hearing to next week

A Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) meeting ended in acrimony on Wednesday afternoon, as the body decided to continue hearing the case about whether the Toll Brothers adequately posted signage about their plans for Jewelers Row. The case will be brought before the ZBA again on October 5th.

The Preservation Alliance’s lawyer, Hal Schirmer, paraded a series of witnesses who argued that the Toll Brothers failed to adequately post the appropriate notices on all the affected buildings. The five lots hadn’t yet been consolidated into one lot, so in addition to the need for posting about the proposed demolition, each building required signage about the plan to consolidate the lots. The lawyers for the Department of Licenses & Inspections and for Toll Brothers were not able to present their case in the hour that the testimony lasted.

Paul Steinke of the Preservation Alliance and Greg Pastore, former member of ZBA both testified. The Preservation Alliance argued that Toll only posted its permits on 7th Street and not on the buildings facing Sansom Street.

“I know what I’m looking for when I’m looking at a permit,” said Pastore, describing why the alleged lack of appropriate signage was important. “The average guy walking down 7th Street who happens to turn the corner is not going to know what is happening on Sansom Street.”

But when Schirmer began bringing up tenants of Jewelers Row, who weren’t his clients but were filing their own pro se cases against Toll Brothers, the ZBA decided that the meeting was getting overlong and running into the next hour’s scheduled sessions. The ZBA then decided to put off hearing the rest of the witnesses, and making a decision, until another meeting on Wednesday, October 5.

Ron Patterson of the Klehr Harrison law firm, representing Toll Brothers, had been protesting Schirmer’s strategy throughout, accusing him of presenting the same evidence from different angles. But at about the one-hour mark, after the decision to continue the case next week was made, Carl Primavera, also a partner in Klehr Harrison, spoke up. He asked all the people who wanted to speak before the ZBA as witnesses to come to the front of the room so they could get a sense of how many more witnesses would be supporting the appeal.

“What I’ve heard today is a ridiculous amount of squabbling and pettifoggery,” said Primavera. “I’m upset for the board, I’m upset for you, I’m upset for the people who are waiting. This is absolutely obstructionist activity ….they aren’t just going to have this go month after month after month. This is not a game, this is not a matter of hiding the ball.”

Primavera’s impassioned speech provoked Frank Schaffer, the owner of FGS Gems at 708 Sansom Street, who insisted that he had every right to address the board. Standing at the front of the room with a few other witnesses, he denied that he was there to obstruct the process.

“I have done no such things and I don’t like the way you are pushing me,” said Schaffer.

“I don’t like the way you aren’t being honest with the board,” Primavera shot back.

The hearing quickly devolved, with Schaffer exchanging words with Primavera and Tanya Sunkett, a zoning administrator with L&I, who he said was “just allowing this man [Primavera] to yell at everyone.” Sunkett eventually stormed out of the room in annoyance.*

“Everybody stop, not another word,” said Anthony Gallagher, a Kenney appointee to the ZBA and business agent of Steamfitters Local 420. “Whoever is going to speak at the next board meeting—and this is coming from the board not lawyers—sign in with Tanya and we will address it as a board that’s it. Not another word.”

* L&I called PlanPhilly to clarify that Sunkett stormed out of the room not in a fit of pique, but to get security. 

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal