Fishtown business owner gets green light for church conversion

Church of the Liv­ing Word to be­come tat­too and cre­at­ive design stu­dio and res­id­en­tial space.

The Church of the Liv­ing Word will be the new home of True Hand, a tat­too and cre­at­ive design stu­dio owned by Mike Ski. PHOTO: MIKE SKI

By Mary Elizabeth Sullivan

Mike Ski got a thumbs-up from Fishtown res­id­ents last week.

The own­er of True Hand, a body art and cre­at­ive design com­pany, re­ceived the green light to turn the Church of the Liv­ing Word on the 2300 block of Susque­hanna Av­en­ue in­to his new home and stu­dio.

At an Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation zon­ing meet­ing, loc­al neigh­bors voted un­an­im­ously 18–0 in fa­vor of passing a Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment ZBA vari­ance that would al­low Ski to have mul­tiple uses in the struc­ture.

Most of the neigh­bor­hood is zoned as a RSA-5, mean­ing there can not be more than one use in the res­id­ence. A ma­jor­ity of the com­munity vote also went Ski’s way, with the res­ults com­ing in at 70–4.

Ski plans to turn the church in­to a single-fam­ily res­id­ence on the first floor, where he will live, and turn the second floor in­to a ‘by ap­point­ment only’ tat­too and cre­at­ive design stu­dio. Al­though there will be con­struc­tion hap­pen­ing on the in­side, there will be min­im­al changes to the facade. Roof work and new win­dows will be some of the minor changes.

“When we see churches come in through here, we usu­ally see multi-fam­ily, so we were fa­vor­able to this pro­ject,” said Matt Karp, chair of the FNA Zon­ing Com­mit­tee.

The church is cur­rently still in use, with 11 act­ive mem­bers in the con­greg­a­tion. The build­ing is 150 years old, and Ski in­tends to main­tain the his­tory.

“We feel strongly that this is a great fit for the neigh­bor­hood as our in­ten­tions are to not only pre­serve the spir­it of this his­tor­ic and in­ter­est­ing build­ing, but to en­hance and beau­ti­fy it,” Ski wrote in an email sent to nearby neigh­bors be­fore the zon­ing meet­ing.

Ski in­vited neigh­bors out to the church be­fore the zon­ing meet­ing for a meet and greet, and to an­swer any ques­tions they may have ahead of time.

Ski’s law­yer, Mi­chael Phil­lips, told the com­munity at the meet­ing that oth­er de­velopers were look­ing to pur­chase the church and turn it in­to multi-fam­ily dwell­ings.

“I can say that be­cause I have rep­res­en­ted some de­velopers who have looked at this to turn it in­to a multi-fam­ily,” Phil­lips said. “But Mike Ski is not go­ing to turn it in­to multi-fam­ily.”

After that com­ment, the crowd cheered.

“It’s go­ing to be hard pressed to find some­body that just wants to build a single-fam­ily home on a 5700-square-foot lot that has over 4400 square feet of liv­ing space,” Phil­lips ad­ded.

Dur­ing the dis­cus­sion, ar­chi­tect his­tor­i­an Oscar Beisert talked about his ex­cite­ment for Ski’s pro­ject.

“This is like an ideal, dream pro­ject,” said Beisert, as he dis­cussed the his­tory of the Ger­man church.

True Hand is cur­rently loc­ated at 2424 E. York Street.

At the new loc­a­tion, Ski does not an­ti­cip­ate late hours or many ad­ded cars to the neigh­bor­hood, as a ma­jor­ity of the em­ploy­ees walk or bike to work already. There will also be no sig­nage on the ex­ter­i­or.

“We’re not your tra­di­tion­al tat­too par­lor. We’re by ap­point­ment cus­tom tat­too­ing. We’re known for unique format and private set­ting, and friendly and tal­en­ted staff,” Ski said. “It’s a very low-im­pact com­mer­cial busi­ness.”

Ski has been a res­id­ent of Fishtown for al­most 10 years, and cur­rently resides on E. Berks Street. The sale of the church will close next week, and Ski hopes to have all per­mits in or­der and renov­a­tions done for an open­ing in Oc­to­ber.

“I’m ex­cited to con­tin­ue to be a neigh­bor here in Fishtown, and con­tin­ue to con­trib­ute to the com­munity in a pos­it­ive way.”

Pri­or to Ski’s pro­pos­al, an­oth­er prop­erty was dis­cussed at the zon­ing meet­ing: 1212 E. Fletch­er St.

The own­er re­ques­ted to change the RSA-5 zon­ing so that he could make the single-fam­ily home in­to two dwell­ings. He said he wanted to “de­fray” un­ex­pec­ted liv­ing costs of the large three bed­room home.

The own­er did not have the same pos­it­ive res­ults as Ski.

The over­all vote was 61–28 in op­pos­i­tion.

Com­munity mem­bers were con­cerned about park­ing, and some res­id­ents strongly en­cour­aged and urged oth­ers to not sup­port this vari­ance, as they felt it would be a “slip­pery slope” to set­ting pre­ced­ents for oth­er situ­ations like this to arise.