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Hotel project shows how to work with planning board and neighbors

A recently announced hotel project for an important intersection in the northeast neighborhood of Philadelphia known as "Fishtown" provides a useful case study of how a proposed development of commercial real estate must satisfy the local planning authority and the project's neighbors.

A developer who has built other projects in Fishtown announced plans to build a 125-room hotel at the intersection of Frankford Avenue and Leopold Street. The hotel would incorporate a jazz bar, a restaurant and bar, office space, and a banquet hall in addition to hotel guest rooms. The preliminary design shows a building of post-industrial architecture with floor-to-ceiling windows and high ceilinged rooms.

The developer said that he would seek rezoning of the three parcels comprising the project, and any such change requires neighborhood approval. Hence, the Fishtown Neighborhood Association recently held a zoning meeting to give neighbors a chance to air their concerns about the project. Current zoning limits total building floor space to 500% of the first floor area, but the plan calls for total square footage of 542 percent. Also, the zoning code requires an open area on the site, and the hotel as currently conceived would occupy the entire lot.

By common agreement, the biggest unanswered question is where and how the developer will provide the 107 parking spaces required by the zoning code. Several solutions are being discussed by the developer and local businesses. Neighbors who expressed concern about the parking also stated that the developer was a "good guy" and that they expected him to work with them to find a viable solution.

The Association approved the project by an 81-7 vote. This show of strong support for the project shows how the developer has already endeavored to understand and meet the city's requirements and to assure the neighbors that he will work with them. The central lesson of this project for commercial real estate developers is to study and become familiar with zoning and construction requirements before announcing the project and to provide believable assurances to the neighbors that their concerns will be addressed. An experienced real estate attorney can offer valuable assistance in carrying out both steps.

Source: Spirit Community Newspapers, "Is A Hotel Good for Fishtown?," John Piotrowski, March 4, 2015

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