City Board Approves Blatstein Project, Then Says Nevermind
After saying it would need two weeks to mull over everything developer Bart Blatstein presented at its April 26th meeting, the Zoning Board of Adjustment Wednesday voted to grant the two special exceptions Blatstein sought for his mixed-use residential/retail/office development at the northeast corner of Broad Street and Washington Avenue. Then, later in the same meeting, the board reportedly decided that it should wait until it said it would vote and vacated its earlier decision.
A Philadelphia Inquirer news report stated that board chairman Jim Moylan could not be reached for comment on why the board went ahead and voted a week before it said it would. A source who remained until the end of the meeting to hear another case later reported that shortly before that last case, the board members recused themselves, then came back and announced that they had to vacate the earlier vote because their earlier vote to continue Blatstein’s case for two weeks had to stand.
The board had originally set the two-week date at its April 26 meeting. The board’s vote to reverse itself means that it will instead wait until the May 10 meeting to vote on the exceptions. Barring some change of mind on the part of one or more board members between now and May 10, however, today’s actions most likely telegraph the board’s ultimate decision.
The project’s Hawthorne neighbors object mainly to the height of the project’s apartment tower, which can be built by right under the lot’s zoning. Just about everyone else, from Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron to the Planning Commission’s Civic Design Review panel to this writer, object to the block-filling three-story podium atop which the tower will sit. Designed to hold at least one, and maybe two, big-box retailers, the podium fills the block only because it must also contain the 600-car parking garage.
One of the two variances Blatstein seeks is for that garage. The other is for the rooftop shopping village. Recent experiences with other multilevel retail developments in Center City suggest that Blatstein may find few shoppers willing to climb the four flights of stairs that serve as the main entrance to the village.