“We’re Done:” ZBA Votes Down Zoning Variance at 1323R Montgomery, Ends Flag Lot Saga
It’s an address—or actually, a flag lot—that has garnered the attention of many Fishtown residents.
And Wednesday afternoon, about 20 of them showed up at a Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting, making it clear they didn’t want development of six townhouses in that space.
The ZBA heard from them—including multiple people who live on the block. And they sided with them, unanimously voting against a proposal by L&M Real Estate Developments and KJO Architecture.
The proposal, located specifically at 1323R E. Montgomery Ave., has been discussed between developers and Fishtowners since January, when a 12-townhouse plan was introduced. Last week, attorney Leo Mulvihill presented the new plan, which called for six townhomes, each with two off-street parking spaces. It also dropped the overall building height and allowed for a set-back of five feet between the townhomes and adjacent property lines.
Still, the community was unsupportive, strongly opposing the project by a count of 111-8.
Mulvihill argued during Wednesday’s hearing that one of the main hardships was Wilt Street, an alley adjacent to the lot that is not officially recognized by the Streets Department.
“If Wilt Street were a legitimate city street, we wouldn’t necessarily have to be here today, because we could work with the project within the confines of Wilt Street,” he testified.
Residents, however, expressed concerns about land density, the location of the project on Montgomery Avenue, and safety and logistical issues regarding lighting on Wilt Street and losing some of their yard space. These issues were highlighted in a Fishtown Neighbors Association letter to the ZBA, which was highlighted by Mulvihill and FNA Zoning Chair Matt Karp at the hearing.
“This is one of those projects that the zoning code exists to prevent,” Karp testified. “To prevent building homes and increase density behind other homes that don’t match anything on the street.”
The lot, 1323 R E. Montgomery Ave., currently lies in an RSA-5 code, which allows single-family home development—which residents were supportive of, according to the FNA letter.
Multiple people who live on the 1300 block of Montgomery Avenue, however, testified that the actual proposal would cut into people’s backyards, create safety hazards for kids playing in the lot and on Wilt Street, and that the ZBA should honor that the community strongly voted against the proposal twice at FNA zoning meetings.
“This property is in the heart of the residential area of Fishtown,” said Rich Levins, who lives on the block. “Every area there except for perhaps the Rag Flats, which was an abandoned factory 12 or 15 years ago, is single-family homes … the community really wants to maintain the unique residential feel of the neighborhood.”
Levins, who has lived on the block since 1988, told Spirit News after the hearing he liked the community’s chances heading into Wednesday.
“Given that the fact that the community came out overwhelmingly against this project, I was optimistic that we would prevail,” he said. “But you never know until the final decision is made, where it’s gonna end up.”
Before ZBA Chair Carol Tinari started the voting, she noted that the project had been opposed by the city’s Planning Commission and Councilman Darrell Clarke, who was represented by Legislative Counsel Jeffery Young.
After Tinari and ZBA members Confesor Plaza, Anthony Gallagher and Thomas Holloman voted no, Fishtowners applauded the decision. One resident thanked the board: “You did the right thing!”
If any future proposals occur for the lot, L&M Real Estate Development Managing Partner Mo Rushdy made his company’s stance clear outside the hearing room of the 18th floor of 1515 Arch St.
“We’re done.” •