Fishtown neighbors green light two companion development proposals

The first development project, a 42-unit residential complex located at the site of the former National Metalcrafters building at 1408-18 E. Oxford St., passed by a margin of 81-55. The second project, which includes seven single-family homes built on top of what was the National Metalcrafters office at 321-25 Belgrade St., was passed by a margin of 90-47.

1408-18 E. Oxford St. | Photo by Tom Beck

Fishtown residents green-lighted two development projects planned for the corner of Oxford and Belgrade at Tuesday night’s FNA zoning meeting at the First Presbyterian Church of Kensington. The first development project, a 42-unit residential complex located at the site of the former National Metalcrafters building at 1408-18 E. Oxford St., passed by a margin of 81-55. The second project, which includes seven single-family homes built on top of what was the National Metalcrafters office at 321-25 Belgrade St., was passed by a margin of 90-47. Both projects are being pursued by local developers Dor Berkowitz and Dvir Aharon.

The 42-unit Oxford Street proposal is a 37,000-square-foot apartment building that includes four stories and 32 accessory parking spaces. It’s 45 feet in height, or 56 if you count the rooftop amenities, which is where a pool/spa and a roof deck is planned, according to documents provided at the meeting. Principal refusals for the project include height (only 38 feet is allowed) and rear yard depth, which must be at least 9 feet deep. The current project has plans only for a 6- to 6.5-foot-deep rear yard.

The units, which will be managed by the developers and available for rental only, will include 27 one-bedroom units, 12 two-bedrooms units, three three-bedroom units and zero studios. 

Furthermore, two existing curb cuts will be eliminated, which adds to on-street parking spaces. Perhaps even more interestingly, the developers are planning to add an open space on the open lot at the corner of Oxford and Belgrade streets, which is affectionately known among locals as Walt’s Corner. It’s named after Walter Pomroy, who’s been selling hot dogs and soda on the corner for nearly 50 years.

“[The developers] are proposing maintaining that lot so they would be responsible for the upkeep of it and having it open to the community,” said Berkowitz and Aharon’s zoning attorney, Adam Laver, at the meeting. “The hope is that…Walt would continue, God-willing, for many years to be the fixture that he’s known to be in the community at that site.”

321-25 Belgrade St. | Photo by Tom Beck

The Belgrade Street proposal includes seven single-family homes with 13 accessory parking spaces. At its tallest point, the project will reach 45 feet in height. The primary refusals include the height (only 38 feet is allowed) and the shared driveway.

“We took our time in the last couple months to try and meet with immediate neighbors and hear their concerns and questions,” said Berkowitz at the meeting. “We tried to invest them quite a bit to the best that we could.”

When asked about how they would prevent dust migration during demolition, Berkowitz said most of the demolition would be completed by hand, but not all. 

“The large warehouse on Oxford will be [demolished] some by machinery because there’s a lot of steel inside,” he said. “[The Belgrade Street project is] more of a cinderblock building, so that’s going to be done by hand.”

Additionally, Berkowitz said that he’ll ask the contractor for a water truck to help keep excess dust to a minimal level.

“We will ask for a water truck and more than just a garden hose,” he said. “We will keep [the construction company] accountable for sweeping every night and hopefully try to keep everything we can inside the warehouse.”

Berkowitz said demolition on both properties would begin simultaneously.

Both Laver and the FNA’s zoning committee president, Ian Wilson, said that both sides were working on a community benefits agreement. Wilson said a draft had been sent to the FNA, but the two sides have yet to hash out the specifics of the CBA.

“The board and zoning committee has been discussing [the CBA],” Wilson said. “There’s just not enough time in the day to really flesh that out and get comments back to them and negotiate that all here.”

He added that residents’ comments on the project would “inform decisions made by the FNA board about whether or not we actually enter into an agreement” with the developers.

However, not too many residents had negative things to say about the project. The ones who did, however, criticized the Oxford Street project’s density.

“It’s entirely too much density for this neighborhood,” said resident Chuck Valentine. Another resident said she preferred the idea of single-family homes, not Center City-style apartment buildings.

Laver and Wilson agreed that residents should vote as if no CBA has been settled on. Prior to the vote, Laver said he was confident the two sides would reach a CBA agreement even if residents approved the project. He said it was in his clients’ best interest even if they already had community support.

“No matter what happens with the vote tonight, each and every one of you has the opportunity to go to the zoning board [meeting],” he said. “If we don’t have a reasonable agreement in place at that point in time, it won’t look good for our chances of trying to get zoning variance relief.”

The development team isn’t expected to present in front of the city’s zoning board until late April.