Monday, December 04, 2006

Adventures in breaking developers' spirits, NIMBY-style

Rendering of the Locust ClubThe Locust Club was the site of a proposed development for the 1600 block of Locust Street. An eight story, mid-rise condo (with tiered setbacks to respect the low-rise nature of the block), the proposal was generally received as a very good addition to a Center City block.

There was, however, a small set of local residents who were diametrically opposed to the proposal, even after the developer changed it to address their concerns, adding more setbacks on the higher floors.

Among them, Dan Berger, whose family owns the building at 1622 Locust, leasing it to his law firm Berger & Montague, which was conveniently prepared to litigate developments like these in perpetuity.

Here’s an excerpt from the dispute from 2005. [emphasis added]
The developer, Ceebraid-Signal Corp. of Stamford, Conn., which has already redesigned the project once to try and appease concerns, received support of local architectural preservationists, as well as local zoning authorities and the city's historic commission.

"There should be nothing that needs to be changed," said Jason Schlessinger, who heads the development firm building the $25 million project. Schlessinger is frustrated over the opposition. "I am committed to the project and the city of Philadelphia."
Fast forward 20-some months to Sunday. [Emphasis added]
Jason Schlesinger, chairman and chief executive officer of Connecticut-based Ceebraid-Signal Corp., said he sold the property about eight months ago to local real estate developer Ravi Chawla after tiring of resistance to the project.

"Berger made it clear to me that he'd spend whatever amount of money he had to stop me from building," Schlesinger said. "I'm not in the business of waiting around. I just said enough with Philadelphia."
Ladies and Gentlemen, there you have it. If you’re wondering how to give Philadelphia a black eye in the minds of developers considering bringing business to this city, look no further. Dan Berger should be able to help you out.

The sad part here, of course, is that this is in no way an isolated incident. There are a lot of longtime residents of Center City and the surrounding neighborhoods that are inexplicably terrified of heights, waging war with any proposed new building that dare rise more than four stories.

And while community input is invaluable to any growth that Philadelphia is to have, you know something is fucked up when a small minority can so disrupt the process that they completely disgust developers to the point that the developers never again pursue or finance another project in Philadelphia.

We realize that in regards to 1616 Locust all is not lost. After Schlessinger sold the Locust Club property, the Curtis Institute of Music stepped in wanting to develop the site. Which is fine.

The massive black eye that Philadelphia now has in the eye of at least one developer, however, cannot be ignored. It’s too emblematic of a much larger problem that continues to harm Philadelphia everyday its planning and zoning issues go unreformed.

Related:
NB to Curtis Institute: mind the volume — we can’t imagine your new neighbors are going to be thrilled about the noise [Philadelphia Inquirer]
NIMBYs oppose condo development, citing the "historical milieu" of the block. Everyone in the room immediately points and laughs at the giant pretentious douchebags [Philadelphia Business Journal]
Legal limbo for Locust Club condo project [Changing Skyline]
Developmentally disabled [Philadelphia Weekly]

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