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