Story by Ryan Conway
Roxborough residents have escalated an ongoing effort to stop local developer Designblendz from building a proposed apartment building at 4112 Pechin St.
Members of the Central Roxborough Civic Association (CRCA) have canvassed against the project and held many contentious meetings about the proposed 36-unit building.
At a CRCA meeting on Sept. 2, president Celeste Hardester announced the CRCA approved hiring a lawyer, Dan McElhatton, to fight Designblendz’s appeal to the Zoning Board of Adjustments. The ZBA had scheduled a hearing for Sept. 8, but the developer and its legal team asked for a special hearing held at a later date, according to the CRCA.
The developer has sought multiple variances to begin construction, but the process has been long and arduous. As a result, Designblendz has presented to residents three separate times, which is unusual, according to the CRCA.
“Normally, a developer presents once, takes our points into consideration, and then comes back,” Hardester said.
Residents’ concerns about the property are myriad, ranging from the height of the building to the increased traffic in the neighborhood a new apartment building will bring. However, there was one issue residents keep mentioning: the slope of the lot the proposed building will be built on.
“Traffic, parking, all of that is a concern,” said one resident at the Sept. 2 meeting. “But the slope of the property is worrying.”
The steep grade of the site, greater than 25%, is one of the key reasons the city has not approved the project.
“That’s steeper than the Manayunk Wall,” one resident said, referring to the famous hill running up Levering and Lyceum streets at a 17% grade.
The main draw of the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic, the Manayunk Wall is considered one of cycling’s most significant challenges.
For some, the slope of the lot is the main issue. Hardester said the project could work on a site more suited to the project.
“Designblendz did a wonderful job,” she said. “We’d love for them to build something on Ridge Avenue, just not right here.”
Despite refusals, the developer has continued to lodge appeals with the City. The most recent appeal document, submitted by Pritzker Law Group on behalf of Designblendz, said literal enforcement of the zoning code would impose unnecessary hardship, even though the design as proposed would not adversely affect the neighborhood in any way.
Designblendz and Pritzker Law Group did not return requests for comment.
In the appeal documents, Designblendz’s legal team pointed out a large apartment complex, Shurs Lane MIlls Apartments, across the street from 4112 Pechin St., saying their building would fit the neighborhood landscape in a way similar to existing apartment buildings.
Hardester said that, as a repurposed industrial building, Shurs Lane Mills Apartments is not the same as Designblendz’s proposed project.
“[Shurs Lane Mills Apartments] is actually a part of the fabric of the community,” she said. “That building has been there for about 150 years; it’s a completely different story.”
For many long-time residents, new development threatens the charm of their neighborhood.
“None of these new projects have any green space,” said Maryann O’Kane, a resident of 22 years. “Roxborough is becoming a concrete jungle.”
The headaches that come with new developments have made some residents skeptical of any new construction.
“The traffic during peak times is already crazy, especially in such a high-density area,” one resident said at the Sept. 2 meeting. “What are they thinking?”
This increased construction has some residents seeking to stop multifamily housing projects, at least for now.
“We have considered pushing for a moratorium on multifamily housing,” Hardester said. “It’s worked elsewhere and could potentially work here.”
Some residents unhappy with changes in the neighborhood are considering moving elsewhere.
“I lived here for over five decades,” Bob Fuhrmeister said. “Now, all I think about is moving. But where would I go?”
However, Hardester said preserving the character of the neighborhood while appealing to potential new residents requires a sense of balance, and an understanding that new construction is not always bad.
“Central Roxborough is committed to preserving the architectural, cultural, and environmental identity of our neighborhood,” she said. “It’s encouraging to see a mix of long-time and brand-new residents that are equally committed to that goal.”
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