Scoop on project at Scoops

Com­munity gives nar­row mar­gin of sup­port for apart­ments on Thompson Street.

So long sundaes? : The fu­ture of Scoops is un­cer­tain as a multi-fam­ily de­vel­op­ment may soon take its place. CHRIS­TOPH­ER SEAMANS / STAR PHOTO

What will re­place the stor­age gar­ages between Fletch­er and Colona Streets on the 800 block of E. Thompson Street?  Will Fishtown­ers who en­joy a stroll to the ice cream shop Scoops for a sundae or sug­ar cone on a warm sum­mer night have to hunt for some­where else to get their fix?

At a  zon­ing meet­ing hos­ted by Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation last Tues­day, the com­munity voted to ap­prove the con­struc­tion of a three-story apart­ment build­ing on the lot, but the mar­gin was razor thin.

It may be too early to tell what will hap­pen to Scoops.

The pro­ject, a five-unit apart­ment build­ing with a small re­tail space on the ground floor, was re­jec­ted by the Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment for three reas­ons — the lack of open space, the bal­conies, and the multi-fam­ily status.  Vari­ances for those three ele­ments would be re­quired for ap­prov­al.

Ar­chi­tect Richard Miller of RKM Ar­chi­tects walked the ap­prox­im­ately 60 neigh­bor­hood res­id­ents who showed up through the pro­posed pro­ject.  He ac­know­ledged that the cur­rent pro­pos­al con­tains no open space, but he poin­ted out that the gar­ages and re­tail space it will be re­pla­cing lack open space, as well.  He also noted that the bal­conies are too small for parties or bar­be­cues.

He called at­ten­tion to his at­tempts to make the struc­ture blend in with the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hood by mak­ing it short­er than the max­im­um al­lowed height and us­ing sim­il­ar brick.

“We’ve al­ways loved that sec­tion of Thompson Street with the brick row houses that are across the way,” he said, “and we tried very much to take a stance to­ward the site that worked with the ad­ja­cent con­text, both in terms of ma­ter­i­al and scale.”

In an ap­par­ent at­tempt to get out ahead of com­plaints about park­ing, he ex­plained that the de­moli­tion of the ex­ist­ing gar­ages would ac­tu­ally open up three and a half new park­ing spaces.

Even so, park­ing was a big con­cern.

“Park­ing is a night­mare,” one res­id­ent said.  “It’s in­sane.  I know you men­tioned bikes, but that’s what every de­veloper says, like, ‘Oh, every­one who moves in has bikes.’ ”

There’s so much con­ges­tion,” an­oth­er wo­man said.  “If any­one comes home from work after 5 o’clock, they have to park blocks and blocks away.”

Kim Miller of RKM said, “We think it’s go­ing to at­tract people who will take pub­lic trans­port­a­tion and we are provid­ing for bike stor­age.  We’re try­ing to do what we can to provide amen­it­ies for these units to sup­port people tak­ing pub­lic trans­port­a­tion.”

Oth­er res­id­ents were con­cerned about build­ing man­age­ment and trash pickup.

De­veloper Chloe Deon ex­plained that she would be hand­ling the man­age­ment her­self at first.

“I really care about this prop­erty,” she said.  “I know people in the neigh­bor­hood, and you guys live there.  I wouldn’t do any­thing to trash this prop­erty up.  I want to in­volve it with the neigh­bor­hood and keep it with the same feel as a Fishtown neigh­bor­hood, with the beau­ti­ful brick, same as the houses across the street.  I’m not look­ing to mess any­thing up.  I want to en­hance it.”

A key ques­tion was what would hap­pen to Scoops, and what the de­veloper would do to make sure the re­tail space wouldn’t go empty like so many oth­ers in the neigh­bor­hood.

“Scoops has first dibs,” Deon said.  “If Doreen wants to keep the space open, she’s more than wel­come to op­er­ate it.”

Deon said that she was so com­mit­ted to keep­ing the re­tail space full that she was will­ing to make it avail­able rent free.  

“We’re not go­ing to charge any rent for the re­tail space.  The vari­ances al­low us to do that.”

“I hope every­body real­izes that this is a really bad pro­ject,” one res­id­ent said.  “It’s a bad pro­ject for Thompson Street and it’s a bad pro­ject for Fishtown.  There’s ab­so­lutely no reas­on at all to grant a vari­ance for multi-fam­ily dwell­ings.  There’s no reas­on for them not to build single-fam­ily homes.  It may not make the most profit, but that’s not our prob­lem.”

The amount of open space was the stick­ing point for him.  

“The codes re­com­mend that you leave a little bit of open space.  That’s a good thing.  Just be­cause be­fore some­body built these crappy gar­ages and covered 100 per­cent, there’s no reas­on to go back to that and cov­er 100 per­cent.”

A dir­ect neigh­bor to the prop­erty also op­posed the pro­ject.  

“My biggest con­cern is the dens­ity and a kind of syn­chron­iz­a­tion with the sens­ib­il­ity of the neigh­bor­hood and the largely single-fam­ily homes that are there.  This is just an ef­fort to max­im­ize profit.  I have con­cerns about the nature of the busi­ness that would go in.  I do like their ef­fort to open it up to loc­al people, and I would love to con­tin­ue Scoops.  I don’t see the be­ne­fit here.  I don’t see what a large build­ing would do that three single-fam­ily homes wouldn’t ac­com­plish.”

An­oth­er res­id­ent noted that single fam­ily homes wouldn’t ne­ces­sar­ily be more com­pact than the cur­rent pro­pos­al.  “They’ll prob­ably go 38 feet plus a pi­lot house, so the neigh­bors will ac­tu­ally lose more sun that way.  I think this is a pretty good plan when it’s all said and done.  It could be bet­ter, it could be worse, but at the end of the day, it’s liv­able.”

Res­id­ents voted in sup­port of the pro­pos­al, 27 to 26.  Neigh­bors with­in 500 feet voted against it, 14 to 12, but the wider com­munity voted for it, 15 to 12.

So, what about Scoops?  

At the meet­ing, sev­er­al Fishtown­ers stated that they wanted Scoops to stay.  Will neigh­bors still be able to in­dulge them­selves at the corner of Thompson and Colona?  

Pro­pri­et­or Doreen Thompson is still mak­ing up her mind.

“Chloe asked be­fore, but I really don’t know if I want to go in there when it’s done,” she said.  “I was not aware that it would be rent free, but we didn’t really dis­cuss it.  It was a cas­u­al con­ver­sa­tion and we didn’t really get in­to any spe­cif­ics.  We haven’t dis­cussed any­thing fur­ther.” 

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