L&M Real Estate Development Appealing ZBA Decision on 1323R E. Montgomery
In late March, more than a dozen people who live on the 1300 block of E. Montgomery Ave. attended a Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing to protest the granting of a variance to 1323R E. Montgomery Ave.
That address is actually a flag lot, which sits behind a series of rowhomes in a densely populated block in the heart of Fishtown. Now, after the ZBA unanimously voted against the variance, the developer, L&M Real Estate Development is appealing that decision.
Mo Rushdy, managing partner of L&M, declined to comment about the appeal. His lawyer, Leo Mulvihill, told Spirit News that the appeal will be heard in the city’s Court of Common Pleas.
“Considering the zoning of this parcel and its dimensions, it is our belief that a hardship existed and the ZBA erred in finding otherwise,” Mulvihill said in an email.
This address initially stems back to a Fishtown Neighbors Association zoning meeting in January, where more than 100 residents voted against the initial proposal. That project consisted of 12 townhomes, one off-street parking space for each and a zero-foot setback for the houses.
At a follow-up meeting in mid-March, that proposal was changed to 6 townhomes, two off-street parking spaces for each and a five-foot setback for the houses.
Both times, community residents have pointed to land density and overall safety as major concerns. One of the most interesting aspects about the address is Wilt Street, a back alley which is not recognized by the city as an official street.
Mulvihill and L&M believe that this street, along with other aspects concerning dimensions on East Montgomery pose a hardship and allow for a variance. Residents disagree, and stated their case in a letter to ZBA Chair Carol Tinari, City Council President Darrell Clarke, Mayor Jim Kenney and Gary Jostrzab, executive director of the City Planning Commission before March’s hearing.
“This development would impair or permanently injure the appropriate use of neighboring single-family conforming properties and disturb the quiet enjoyment of life for nearby families,” the letter reads.
Rich Levins is one of those residents that lives on the block. Again, he stated safety and Wilt Street as the main reasons neighbors have strongly opposed any variance at 1323R E. Montgomery Ave.
“The kids play in the alley [Wilt Street], it’s not a city street,” he said. “One of the concerns would be cars would be exiting on that street … it’s a narrow, unpaved alley.”
Matt Karp, zoning chair of the FNA, said he has never seen a developer appeal a decision by the ZBA, and is unsure of what lies ahead. He’s hopeful, however, that the community and ZBA’s votes are upheld.
“I mean, just looking at the [community] vote which was significant, and then the ZBA unanimously voted against it, every single one of them,” Karp said.
Levins added that he and other neighbors have raised more than $1,000 for a lawyer to represent them and the FNA in the appeal. That lawyer, Henry “Hal” Schirmer, Jr., filed a motion to intervene May 8, which means Levins and others aim to be involved as defendants in the appeal.
Schirmer has been involved with other zoning cases citywide—including representing Friends of St. Laurentius and then Faithful Laurentians in the battle over the St. Laurentius church.
“This is kind of a referral of a referral,” he said about getting involved.
He added these cases are relatively simple, and heavily rely on past testimony and court documents.
“The nice thing is these cases are really narrow,” Schirmer said. “This is really a snapshot in time, you can’t go back and put in things you wish you had said.”
Currently, Michael Kavanaugh owns the flag lot and 1315 E. Montgomery Ave., according to an appeal notice provided to Levins and other neighbors near the flag lot. He also is the defendant in the case.
Previously, there had been confusion about a $1 sale of the lot to Kavanaugh, but Levins believes that the woman who anonymously spoke to Spirit News never owned the lot.
“I’d really be speculating … I never really had a conversation with Mr. Kavanaugh … he’s never moved into the property as far as I understand,” Levins said about Kavanaugh’s interest in the appeal. “I believe he lives in New Jersey … and as you can imagine, he sees he can make a profit.”