Last night’s SOSNA zoning meeting was agony. Fortunately, its organizers were smart enough to 1) start the meeting a little earlier than usual, and 2) schedule it in a location with air conditioning. Three projects were presented to the community, but 2300 South Street was clearly the main event.
Developer Jason Nusbaum, owner of two neighborhood supermarkets, started things off by listing the dozen or more meetings he’s attended regarding this project over the past couple of months. He met with the SOSNA Architectural Review Committee twice. He presented to the South Street West Business Association. He met repeatedly with the South Street West Civic Association, a new RCO that pretty much only involves itself with large development on or around western South Street West. He sat down with several immediate neighbors. This was his second presentation to the SOSNA Zoning Committee.
To his credit (and some neighbors apparently disagree with this), he made some significant changes from his original proposal. Initially, his project was to be five stories high with twenty-four apartments and commercial space on the first floor. Over the course of the numerous conversations in the community, Nusbaum agreed to chop off the top floor of the building, reducing the number of units to eighteen. The architecture has evolved as well, and the current proposal is an attractive, appropriate building that really anchors the Grays Ferry Triangles area. We like the design work from Plumbob, if we do say so.
Same view as above
From the west
Despite what we would call an unprecedented effort by the developer to reach out to the surrounding community, the project still had a number of opponents in the room. The primary objections to the project were the usual suspects of height and parking. Let’s look at the height first, ok?
The building that once stood here, in 1953
The new zoning code states that new construction buildings in this zoning district can be 38′ tall, but this structure would be 46’4″. As you can see in the photo above, a four-story building once stood here, but the past is almost irrelevant if you ask us. This isn’t some dinky corner, buried in a residential neighborhood- this is South Street West! It’s one of our city’s most exciting commercial corridors right now! It needs more commercial space, more residential density, and more height, not less! If you can’t build taller and more dense here, then where are you supposed to do it? Oh, and not for nothing, but it’s not like it would be the only tall building in the area. Hello, Toll Brothers!
Other tall buildings in the area
But let’s face it, the real problem that many people have with this project is the fact that it provides no off-street parking. To Nusbaum’s credit, he considered two parking schemes which would have each resulted in about six underground parking spaces. But both plans would have taken two or three parking spaces off the street, and would have eliminated one of the three proposed commercial spaces. So a ton of expense, a lost opportunity for a neighborhood business, and a net gain of three parking spaces. Seems like a huge waste, if you ask us.
Nearly two-dozen neighbors spoke up, pretty much evenly divided on the issue. Most of the strong opposition seemed to come from north of South Street, and most of the strong support seemed to come from South of South. A neighbor on Naudain Street told the crowd about how he used to find parking on his block or the next one a decade ago, but now has to circle around for up to 45 minutes to find a spot. Other neighbors echoed this sentiment, worried that additional people cruising for parking spots on the street would put a strain on an already difficult parking situation.
Nusbaum stuck to his guns, suggesting that this development was specifically targeting residents without cars. He was agreeable to putting a provision on the first page of his leases instructing the PPA to refuse to give parking permits to the building’s residents. He pointed to the bicycle parking in the basement. He emphasized the location’s walkability and that the people who would live in his building would take advantage of it.
From Grays Ferry
But why should he have to go to these lengths to satisfy neighbor concerns about parking? As others stated at the meeting, free parking on the street is simply not a fundamental right in Philadelphia, as some people seem to believe. We were incredulous when a neighbor suggested that the developer find some off-site lot for his new residents to park in. We would instead suggest that this person, if he’s having trouble parking on the street, find a spot of his own to rent rather than foisting this incredible burden on the developer. Another neighbor almost got into a fight when he said he didn’t know what city the project’s opponents were taking about where parking concerns should trump a project like this.
We hope that the ZBA is able to look past this opposition, and that they approve this project. While the new zoning code may have streamlined things for simple projects on conforming residential lots, this is clearly a case where the size, shape, and location of the lot make variances appropriate. Nusbaum could absolutely repurpose the existing buildings and build an unexciting new structure by right on this corner, but what a wasted opportunity! As a city, we sometimes need to think bigger than the code allows us, and this is one of those times. This would immediately become a signature building in the neighborhood, and we absolutely hope it gets built.
Now if you’ll excuse us, we have to go look for parking. Be back in an hour