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Plans For New Apartment Complex, Gym Causes Fishtown Feud

Building at Columbia near Memphis to be converted to apartments and city fitness. (credit: Cherri Gregg)

Building at Columbia near Memphis to be converted to apartments and city fitness. (credit: Cherri Gregg)

Gregg_Cherrie--NEW Cherri Gregg
Cherri Gregg is the community affairs reporter for KYW Newsr...
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By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Developer plans to convert an old industrial building in Fishtown to a 57-unit apartment complex and City Fitness gym are causing contention among neighbors.

So what’s the issue?

“For those of us that are long-time residents, it’s the parking,” says neighbor Thomas Eberheart.

Eberheart has lived a few doors down from the industrial building at the corner of Columbia and Memphis for 30 years. While he doesn’t like the eyesore it’s become or the fact that it’s empty, he’s not looking forward to welcoming dozens of new neighbors or the customers at the City Fitness that’s planned at the site.

“It’s just too many cars,” says Eberheart, “even now, when I come home at night and park I sometimes have to walk six to eight blocks to my home.”

Earlier this week, developer Ronald Kassis of Domani Developers presented his case to the Zoning Board of Adjustment, seeking approval for variances for both the apartments and the fitness center.

“We’ve done studies, more and more people are giving up their car to live in the city,” says Kassis, “we’re near the SEPTA station and people in Fishtown wanted a gym.”

Earlier this year, a majority of all Fishtown residents voted to approve Kassis’ request to convert the building into residential space, but those living within 500 feet — withheld support.

“There was definite opposition by local neighbors,” says Kate Michlow, president of the Fishtown Neighbors Association. “And parking was the problem. It’s the biggest complaint we get.”

Michlow notes roughly 25,000 people live in the area from Delaware River to Laurel Street and from Front to Norris. While she’s lived in the area about five years, she says the parking problem should not be viewed as a battle between old and new residents.

“We all have to work together and live together,” she says, “and people have to remember, no one is guaranteed a parking spot.”

“Local residents voted 2 to 1 against the project,” says Eberheart, “most of the people who voted for it don’t live around here.”

Kassis says the new apartment complex will be designed for millennials who want cheap rent and small spaces. He says each unit will be around 500 square feet. The apartments will have 30 spaces for its residents.

“Parking is a problem everywhere in the city. It’s urban living,” says Kassis.

As for the proposed City Fitness, he says they are leasing 25 spaces that will be located about 100 yards away. Neighbors fear gym customers will hog all the parking on Columbia, leaving residents with no space for their cars.

“It’ll just be too many people, too congested,” says Bill, who has lived on Columbia Ave his own life. “But it’s coming- there’s not too much we can do. We’ve talked about permit parking, but I don’t know how that would work. Somebody needs to tear down a building and build a parking lot.”

Most neighbors, even those who oppose the project say they like the development in Fishtown.

“Yeah. it’s definitely much better around here,” says Bill.

A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Planning Commission says the Commission supports granting both zoning variances, but asked the developer to continue to work to deal with parking issues.

“We are doing what we can to work with the neighbors,” says Kassis.

There is no word yet from the zoning board on whether the variances will be approved.

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