A. Jordan Rushie, the Fishtown lawyer representing two residents of Hope Street near Front in Norris Square, Karen Lewis and Carmen Bolden, has filed an appeal to the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s August ruling in favor of demolishing two historically and architecturally significant banks at Front and Norris. The August ruling would allow the Women’s Community Revitalization Project to construct 25 units of low-income housing on the site.
The appellants contend that the project was approved over the strong opposition of neighborhood groups, including New Kensington CDC and East Kensington Neighbors, and that, furthermore, it is WCRP’s duty to prove that a change in zoning at the site to allow for the residential units was a financial hardship. According to Rushie, they contend that instead, “the ZBA pushed the burden on those in opposition to show why WCRP should not be granted a variance. The ZBA should have placed the burden on WCRP to show why there is an undue hardship to use the property commercially, which my clients contend WCRP could not demonstrate. Commercial development makes the most sense under the El.”
The appellants also believe the site short-changes the potential low-income residents, cramming them into a space under the El, when there are acres of vacant land nearby. The site should remain commercial, they say, siting the 100 or so businesses that operate under the EL, nearby.
The monumental banks, built for financial institutions that supported the neighborhood’s historic textile trade, are in severely compromised condition. Purchased by the Norris Square Civic Association, the organization that still holds the note on the property, in 1989, they were allowed to deteriorate despite potential deals to rehab and reuse them. The two buildings are part of a proposed textile industry thematic federal historic district that is proposed by the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia.
The appeal date has not yet been set.