Roland Kassis of Domani Developers wants to convert an out-of-use industrial building at 1421 E. Columbia Ave., near Memphis Street in Fishtown, into a 57-unit apartment complex with a City Fitness gym on the ground floor, and on Tuesday he presented his case to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The ZBA held its decision, as it has been doing recently for projects that involve some controversy, but also because it isn’t entirely clear what zoning district applies to the project.
The zoning application calls for the consolidation of eight lots into one lot—eight lots which have been used for a single building for a number of years. The applicant’s zoning refusal from L&I was based on the RSA-5 residential zoning district, which appears to encompass some of the eight lots in the application. But the developer and his attorney, Ron Patterson, presented their case in the context of an I-2 industrial zoning classification, which appears to apply to some of the other lots.
The different zoning districts have different requirements and limitations for things like parking and density, and the multi-family project would require variances in either one. (Neither multi-family residential uses nor commercial uses are allowed in single-family or industrial zoning districts.)
The project includes 30 underground parking spaces and 57 bicycle parking spaces. Fishtown Neighbors Association, the local Registered Community Organization, voted in support of the project as a whole, though the residents nearest to the property voted against it, said Matt Karp, chair of FNA’s zoning committee. The general membership was in favor of more density and the fitness center, while the immediate neighbors were concerned about parking.
Some of those near neighbors attended Wednesday’s zoning board hearing and said that the neighborhood is already saturated with cars, leaving few parking options for residents. Several said that they support the residential portion of the project, but thought the commercial use (gym) is out of character with the neighborhood and would add to traffic problems. Roland Kassis said that offsite parking would be available to City Fitness members, but according to Matt Karp, some neighbors were skeptical that gymgoers would use the remote lot if they could find a spot closer.
Ken Davies of City Fitness said that virtually all the customers at the gym’s Graduate Hospital location live within a mile of the facility, and that parking is not a problem. None of that testimony seemed to mollify the near neighbors.
Paula Brumbelow, a representative of the Planning Commission, said that the Commission supports the granting of the variances for both the residential units and the fitness center, but asked that the developer continue to work on mitigating parking congestion.
Jared Brey is a freelance reporter based in Philadelphia. His work has been featured in Philadelphia magazine, Hidden City, The Philadelphia Inquirer, City & State, and other publications. He covered development, zoning policy, historic preservation, and city government for PlanPhilly from 2011-2016.