Residents, Developers Debate Possible Projects at FNA Zoning Meeting
Five minutes before the start of Tuesday night’s Fishtown Neighbors Association Meeting, people had already nearly filled the main meeting space in Fishtown Recreation Center.
Then, FNA Zoning Committee Chair Matt Karp delivered some news — the meeting would be slightly delayed, because the amount of residents filing into the room was long enough to exit the building.
When everyone had entered the meeting, about 100 Fishtown residents debated with architects and counsel of K&O Architecture about two proposals: a four-story single family house at 1357 E. Columbia Ave. and the other a two-structure complex at 1323-R East Montgomery Ave.
Both proposals fail to meet zoning classifications, and must be approved for variances by the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment before construction can be considered. Residents, however, strongly opposed both projects.
For the E. Columbia project, 16 local votes—those who live within 500 feet of the proposal—evenly split the zoning variance. The total of the community and local vote was 67 yes, and 76 no. In the East Montgomery Avenue project, a local vote opposed by a count of 78 to 4. Including the community vote, the total tally was 32 votes yes, and 114 votes no.
Several issues arose from residents regarding both issues, ranging from parking to property density to overall safety for kids playing in the general vicinity of both lots.
Regarding the single-story house on Columbia, residents and developers discussed how much of a curb cut would occur onto Belgrade Street or Columbia Avenue, thus determining parking space.
“Of all the things Fishtown needs, the last thing we need is losing another parking spot,” a resident said about the space. Another complained about her car being hit twice in the area because of the narrow streets.
The next project, on Montgomery, created even more debate between residents and developers. K&O Architecture zoning lawyer Leo Mulvihill asked the crowd about the flag lot near the address before his presentation of the plan: “How many people knew about this lot was there?”
Nearly every resident’s hand rose immediately. Mulvihill admitted he did not know about the lot, but then informed residents that the connecting backroad, Wilt Street, is not considered an official street by the city’s Streets Department.
Community members criticized the plan and the developers for seeking to make a profit from the back lot. They also questioned how trash would be collected since a truck would not be able to pull into the alley from Montgomery. Others complained that the new properties would possibly be infringing on their property lines.
Mulvihill and K&O Architect Kevin O’Neill debated that because of the shape of the space and its RSA-5 zoning classification, the two-structure shape would be easiest to develop. Residents argued that the design was a mistake and the developers were only looking to turn a profit off it.
One of them was Rich Levins, 60, who lives on the 1300 block of E. Montgomery Avenue. He argued, like others, that land density was key.
“That kind of density would destroy the quality of life in the area,” he told the Spirit. “It will set a precedent to enable other people to start turning what is zoned single family homes into multiple units … the zoning code is there for the quality of life in the community.”
Mulvihill stated multiple times during the meeting that residents could reach out to him with any concerns.
“I’m not some out-of-town guy,” he told the audience. “Knock on my window, and I’ll answer any questions.”
Karp, the FNA zoning chair, said he was impressed with the turnout, considering the weather and time of the meeting. Several times, he reminded residents to keep their questions zoning-related.
He was, however, happy with the debate.
“This is the only chance the residents get to talk to the developer directly,” Karp told the Spirit. “It’s good to allow it [non-zoning questions]… it’s always good to let them talk about the small issues, before the project actually happens, if it does happen.”