For the residents of Powelton Village, the City Zoning Board of Adjustment made a decision late last year that they just could not live with and they are fighting back.
On Dec. 14, 2011, the ZBA granted University Realty seven different zoning code variances enabling University to proceed with its plan on to build two, three-story apartment buildings on a plot of land the firm purchased at 3506 Hamilton St. That planned multi-unit development contrasts sharply with the character of that block composed mainly of detached houses, structures that are rare in Philadelphia where many residential houses are rowhomes or duplexes.
Many of the variances the ZBA granted University deal with the dimensions of the building such as what percentage of the ground the structure will occupy, how big the back yard needs to be and how close to the sides of the property line the structure can be built.
These variances are of concern to the community, but the bigger concern for Powelton residents seems to be the amount of people who will occupy the development’s 18 bedrooms and the effects that density can have on the families who already live on that block.
“These students could have three cars to every apartment, so that’s 18 more cars on the street. There are times when we come back at night and there are not parking spots on our block and we have to park a block or two over,” resident Nora Becker said.
Becker, whose home is directly adjacent to the lot slated for the new structures, said, “Eighteen more students on the block is going to make that so much more difficult to park.”
The street parking isn’t the only issue that has neighbors on alert. There are other issues such as noise and trash that they will also have to contend with if and when the structure is built.
“It’s one thing for a single family house where maybe there’s two or three people living there. We generate a normal amount of trash, maybe a couple cans per week. But when you have 18 people living in a property, the amount of trash that can be generated is pretty staggering if there’s not private collection and that sort of thing,” Powelton Village Civic Association President George Poulin said.
The residents of Powelton Village care about their neighborhood. So when they had heard that the variances had been granted to University Realty and they were going to be allowed to build the structure they had proposed on the vacant lot, the civic organization and its members took action, mobilizing opposition.
There were two different ZBA hearings concerning the vacant lot in the 3500 block of Hamilton Street both of which the members of the community turned out to oppose the proposed construction. Powelton residents also had the support of District Councilperson Jannie Blackwell.
“For both hearings, we had between 50 and 60 people from the community come out. And these are people who are leaving work early, taking time out of their day to go downtown to go to this hearing,” Becker said.
Becker has been involved with the opposition process from the beginning and attended both hearings that the ZBA convened concerning the requested variances for the lot.
Becker and the scores of other Powelton Village residents were shocked when the ZBA voted to approve the project twice. ZBA spokespersons declined to comment.
“It’s an outrage,” said Larry Biond, a member of the civic association’s zoning committee.
“We never thought that the ZBA would approve something like that and they did. I don’t think you’ll find anyone in the community who doesn’t oppose this,” Powelton resident Biond said.
The association has filed an appeal over that zoning decision to let University Realty develop the property as planned. There have not been any hearings as of yet on the appeal. Drexel University has filed its own appeal concerning the property and variances that were allowed in this case.
It seems that one thing the Powelton Village residents are striving to save is the overall uniqueness of their neighborhood. This concept is something that is ingrained in its residents and they are currently fighting to preserve it.
“Powelton Village is a completely unique place. There is no other place in the city like this and we’re proud of that. There are a lot of reasons that is the case. It’s the architecture, the trees and the porches,” said Poulin, the civic association president.
“In the scheme of Philadelphia, there’s nothing like the 3500 block of Hamilton Street.”
In that sense, Poulin is right. The houses on Hamilton Street all date back more than 100 years. One home on the 3500 block of Hamilton Street is actually registered as a historic structure. These concerns about unique residential character are why the community is fighting to fiber of the neighborhood intact.
University Realty declined to comment on this issue because of the nature of the legal proceedings. A representative of University Realty, however, did express frustration with the opposition to the proposed structure and the legal proceedings that have stemmed from that opposition.