Chinatown: Committee Rejects Proposal to Legalize Unregistered Apartments

The Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC)’s planning committee rejected a proposal to legalize unregistered apartments above Ly Jen Therapy Salons at 121 N. 11th St. on March 12. The current owners of the building presented the proposal. It was a 5-0 vote, with one abstention due to lack of information from a late arrival to the meeting.

According to the committee, undocumented apartments are housing units that currently hold residents but do not have legal permits to do so from the city.

The building in question is comprised of two stories, with the bottom floor serving as a massage parlor and the top floor housing as two unregistered residential apartments. According to zoning law in Chinatown, as stated by the committee, any building with fewer than five housing units must be approved by a local registered community organization. However, the building was constructed 15 years ago without any permits from the city, according to the proposal.

As discussed during the meeting, the original building owner, John Wei, had applied for a city permit to build a five-story building. When it was rejected, he proceeded to build a two-story building and later on sold it to the current owners, who are now applying for a residential license.

The planning committee wavered between approving the apartments and “rewarding good behavior” by doing so, as vice chair Harry Leong said, and rejecting the proposal with the possibility of the massage parlor registering the housing units as commercial units for their business.

While deciding, PCDC projects manager Lamei Zhang pointed out they could approve the proposal on two conditions. The two conditions would be the residential units be used for family housing only and for the building to be up to code. One member pointed out, however, it would be difficult to enforce such conditions.

“Realistically, we can’t enforce much else,” Zhang said.

The committee also questioned the massage parlor’s intentions in utilizing the two housing units.

“Also, considering it’s a massage parlor, do you really think people want to live above a massage parlor?” PCDC founder and executive director Cecilia Moy Yep asked. “Later on, it could be really bad with this having an overnight thing.”

Despite the possibility of qualifying conditions, the committee decided not to approve the proposal.

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