Poplar residents raised concerns about an influx of college students and the lack of adequate parking after hearing a proposal for a new six-story development at a neighborhood meeting last week.
More than 30 people gathered at Saint Paul’s Baptist Church for the 14th Ward Democratic Executive Committee’s community meeting to discuss the developer’s plan for the project. As a registered community organization, the committee is tasked with holding public hearings on new developments that require special planning permissions to be built.
The proposal is for a six-story multi-use building to be constructed at 1308-10 West Girard Avenue. Commercial retail space and a parking garage will fill the building’s first floor, while the upper levels will have 45 apartments available for rent.
Dan Carrol, the owner of the property, and his zoning attorney, Zhen Jin, presented the project at the meeting for one hour before community members voted on the plan. The result, which is nonbinding, will be revealed at next month’s community meeting.
“We want an opportunity for this neighborhood to look at this proposal and make sure it does not pose more hardship than a normal proposal of this nature would to the neighbors,” Jin said.
Currently, the Girard Avenue property is home to a two-story building with a small parking lot in the back on Cambridge Street. The new project would add 13 off-street parking spaces to the existing parking spots, including one that is accessible for handicap vans, and 15 bicycle parking spots.
After Carrol and Jin briefed attendees on the project, community residents took the floor to voice their concerns and ask the developers questions.
The new building’s residents could cause more congestion and put more pressure on already-limited parking in the neighborhood, community members said. Jin said the new parking spaces alleviate any potential problems resulting from the development.
“We don’t think 13 cars overall will leave all at once, they come in and out,” he added. “It’s not going to be a significant amount of traffic. These are residents who come home from work and leave in the morning.”
Other community members voiced concerns that the businesses in the building’s commercial space will create more trash that will dirty the Poplar streets. Students could also move into the apartments and not properly dispose of their garbage, neighbors said.
“They come here to ask us, like today, to vote on this variance, but they’re doing that because that is the protocol that they have to do to show that they went out to the community,” said Sandra Andino, a Poplar resident. “But whether it’s voted in favor or against what they’re trying to do, it doesn’t matter. They’re still going to build what they want to build.”
Some residents asked if students would be allowed to rent the new dwellings and worried whether the buildings would offer student-exclusive housing, like some apartment buildings closer to Temple University’s Main Campus do.
“These will be nice units, and I prefer as the owner of the building to have tenants stay for a longer term,” Carrol said. “Also, by the Fair Housing Act, I can’t prohibit any certain people from renting a place.”
Community members weren’t the only ones greeting Carrol’s project with pushback. Earlier this year, the developers applied for a permit from the Department of Licenses and Inspection.
They were rejected on June 30 when the development proposal didn’t meet city code standards for parking. Developers proposed a 20-foot wide parking space for the building, but the Philadelphia code required at least 24 feet be available for the new building’s occupants.
“These [spots] are going to be used by people leaving the building, so for the most part I think a little bit of common courtesy would resolve the safety issues this code is intending to prevent,” Jin said.
While the community vote is nonbinding, having the neighborhood’s support can help developers gain approval from the Zoning Board for a variance, which is a deviation from the city’s zoning code.
The development proposal comes on the heels of other contested construction projects in the Poplar neighborhood, like the building of an Aldi grocery store at 1300 Fairmount Ave. that broke ground in September.
“There’s been a lot of development in this zip code recently,” said Jim Hall, a 26-year-old member of the 14th Ward RCO Committee.
The committee meets on Wednesdays to hear presentations from local developers and then invites them to share their proposals with Poplar residents for feedback at public meetings on the third Thursday of every month from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Hall, who has lived in Poplar for three years, said communication between developers and community members is really important, so the committee tries to act as a liaison.
“It’s important to hold developers accountable, it’s important to ask them questions, it’s important to have them come before us and accommodate our wishes,” he added.
For Andino, the best way to get the developers’ attention is to keep attending community meetings.
“By us coming out, they realize that there’s people that care, there’s people that are against it, that even though they may have the power and the money, we are aware of what’s going on,” she said.
-Text and image by Laura Smythe.