Gentrification fight in Point Breeze pivots to parking spaces

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The debate over the use of vacant land in rapidly gentrifying Point Breeze has risen a notch, as market-rate developers have filed a court challenge to an affordable housing project that is proposing a surface parking lot on its site.

On Aug. 17, the 2010 Wharton Place Owners’ Association and 2012 Wharton LLC filed a formal appeal in Common Pleas Court against the city Zoning Board of Adjustment for giving approval to the Women’s Community Revitalization Project to build 33 affordable housing units with several parking spaces at the corner of Capitol and Reed Streets.

“They have much more land than they need … and they are just turning that into a parking lot,” Ori Feibush, developer of the 2010 Wharton Street townhouse project, said Thursday. “It’s profoundly frustrating. It kills the walkability of those blocks.”

The zoning board approved the construction of 20 multifamily housing units and a parking lot with 11 spaces on the 1300 block of Capitol and 2000 block of Reed. In addition, the board also approved 10 housing units (a mix of apartments and townhomes) and two parking spaces on the 1400 block of South Taylor Street. Both sites will be part of the nonprofit developer’s Mamie Nichols Townhomes, which will consist of 33 affordable rental apartments and townhomes; 11 will be reserved for veterans. (The other three housing units did not need zoning variance.)

Nora Lichtash, executive director of the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, did not return calls seeking comment. Since January 2016, the Redevelopment Authority has reserved the highly sought-after land for WCRP. The city has also reserved the lots on the 1400 block of South Taylor for the project while the group seeks the $12 million financing it needs to build.

Both city and Redevelopment Authority officials have said that reserving land in rapidly gentrifying areas such as Point Breeze is crucial to maintaining affordability in the city.

Feibush had expressed interest in the Capitol and Reed lots — which the city has valued at $600,000 and which will eventually be transferred to the nonprofit developer for $100 or less. He previously said he would pay $3 million for those lots.

On Thursday, Feibush said he has “zero percent chance” of getting the property. His fight now, he says, is about the walkability of the neighborhood and creating more affordable housing.

“We want affordable housing on this block, but we want the parking to go away. We want them to build more units,” Feibush said. “My focus now is to get the most walkable affordable housing project … with the least amount of interruption in the area.”

The Redevelopment Authority, which owns the land on the 1300 block of Capitol and 2000 block of Reed Street, declined to comment on the appeal.

WCRP is applying for low income housing tax credits (LIHTC), an extremely competitive process that selects one in every four affordable housing projects that apply for funding each year. Having zoning approval is one of the criteria for the tax credit application. So, a zoning fight could potentially impact the tax credit awards.

Holly Glauser, who oversees the LIHTC program at the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, said the state has awarded tax credits to projects that didn’t have the proper zoning at the time of application. However, once a project is awarded tax credits, it must be finished within two years.

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