The Zoning Board of Adjustment heard testimony Wednesday afternoon concerning the proposed development of ten new townhomes at 1901 Lombard Street, a project that has been subject to negotiations between the developers and the Center City Residents Association since early this year.
Developers Noah and Harvey Ostroff are seeking variances related to height and lot coverage, and are hoping to subdivide one existing lot into ten separate lots for each of the proposed homes. The zoning board did not decide the case immediately.
The project calls for eight four-story houses fronting on Lombard Street, with a two-story house fronting on 19th St. and another two-story house fronting on S. Uber St. The four-story houses will be just over 43 feet tall, with “pilothouses” adding another ten feet on top of each, according to the developers’ attorney, Hercules Grigos. The project would also include 20 off-street parking spaces, and each house would have a green roof and a roof deck.
If approved, the project will replace an existing multi-unit apartment complex and surface parking lot on the north side of Lombard Street between 19th and S. Uber streets. The same developers have another project one block east of the site on Lombard.
Grigos said that the height variance is necessary because the developers want to provide adequate parking without installing garages in front of the houses. He said that if they were to use street-facing garages, they wouldn’t need to put parking amenities in the rear portions of the properties. But because they want to avoid street-facing garages, which would interrupt the pedestrian environment, they need to build parking in the rear, which is what caused the project to miss the minimum rear yard depth. To make up for the square footage they say they’ll lose by putting garages in the back, they want to build taller. The current proposal includes only one curb cut.
Neighbors and members of the Center City Residents Association have negotiated with the developers for certain concessions. For example, the current proposal contains four less parking spaces than the original, and the scale of the houses on either end has been reduced.
But some neighbors still have concerns about the height of the buildings and their impact on access to light and air. Some, acknoweldging that they like the developers’ nearby project and that they had been responsive to several of the neighbors’ concerns, oppose the variances because they feel the project could diminish the value--both monetary and personal--of their own properties.
One neighbor, Richard Dickinson, said that the backyard of his Waverly Street house is a “tranquil oasis,” and that if the project is built, he’ll get a view of a brick wall marking off the parking area for the new homes. Dickinson said he has put his house on the market and plans to move if the project is built.
“The aggrievement I have is that I will lose light and air,” Dickinson said.
Hercules Grigos said that many of the neighbors concerns would not be resolved even if the project were built completely by right, and thus they are not directly related to the zoning variances being sought. He also noted that over the course of the negotiations some neighbors have asked for the developers to dedicate part of the property as an alleyway, or to compensate them financially for the loss of light and air they say it will bring.
Others support the proposal. Ann Frumkin, who lives a block and a half west of the sites, said that the houses would be a “wonderful” and “gorgeous” addition to the neighborhood, and reproached some of those who opposed the project for not recognizing what she sees as a positive change for the area.
“If you want lots and lots of sunlight,” Frumkin said, “you have to go into the suburbs.”
Jared Brey writes about development, zoning policy, and city government for PlanPhilly.com. He wasn't interested in being a reporter until halfway through a master's program in journalism at Temple University that he intended to parlay into an academic career. His work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, City Paper, Business Journal, and Metropolis.