Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.
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Towering Legacy
Willard G. “Bill” Rouse III left an indelible impression on Philadelphia.
-John P. Claypool

June 5-11, 2003

cityspace

Bart's Italian Dream

On the evening of Wed., May 28, Northern Liberties residents gathered in a church basement to hear developer Bart Blatstein discuss his latest vision for their neighborhood. Blatstein, who owns a large swath of land near Girard Avenue, plans to build more than 400 apartments in an Italian-inspired piazza -- a circular group of buildings fronting a central square with ground-floor retail properties. When one resident said the architecture would seem out of place, Blatstein said he preferred to think of it as unique. "This is not a Philadelphia building," he said without apology.

The mixed-use project requires a plethora of variances since the site is zoned for a shopping center. Blatstein initially planned to build a Jersey-inspired strip mall on the site -- much like his Delaware Avenue projects -- but when community members demanded a more urban-style development, Blatstein went back to the drawing board. He eventually settled on the piazza.

NoLib residents, known for strong opinions and past run-ins with Blatstein, offered mixed reviews. Some were eager to see new rental units in the area, but others worried that renters wouldn't bring the same level of neighborhood pride that homeowners would. Blatstein argued that rental properties opened up the hip locale, where housing prices have soared, to younger people who may not have a spare $20,000 for a down payment. The developer also pointed out that several of the nearly 100 residents who showed up at the meeting were themselves renters, calling into question the assumption that only homeowners worry about the long-term health of their neighborhood.

The Northern Liberties Neighbors Association (NLNA) has drawn up a letter detailing its concerns to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA), which must approve the project. NLNA President Matt Ruben says, "Our zoning committee tries to work with every developer who comes before us and reach agreements before the ZBA hearing. In this case, we were not able to get as far along in the process as we'd like." Ruben declined to share his group's letter with City Paper but said it raises issues including parking, traffic flow, signage, retail uses and concerns about design and materials. Building heights are also a worry, says Ruben, since Blatstein's project calls for six-story structures.

Attempts to reach Blatstein by press time were unsuccessful. The ZBA will issue a decision after reviewing the NLNA letter.

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