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Landlord of Now Historic University City Home Calls Designation ‘Unfair’

Says his primary concern is financial

Yesterday we wrote about the recent historic designation of two rowhomes in University City that were built by developer Thomas Powers in the 1870s. Following the designation, the owner of another twin on the same block that was also added to the historic register has called the designation "unfair" and financially "unbearable."

The three-story rowhome at 4054 Chestnut Street has been owned by Eapen Kalathil of Off Penn Properties for almost 15 years. In an e-mail to Curbed Philly, Kalathil said, "I am very unhappy regrading this designation. Only six buildings were designated. I think it is unfair that there are 18 other buildings built by the same person that fits all the historic designation criteria applied to my building."

Like the properties at 4050-4052 Chestnut Street, Kalathil’s building was nominated by local historian Aaron Wunsch. Of the property, Wunsch wrote:

Constructed between 1869-1872, the twin at 4054-4056 Chestnut Street of the Thomas H. Powers Development: Nos. 4046-4060 Chestnut Street was represents a transitory period of development in West Philadelphia [...]. Located immediately upon transportation venues to Philadelphia, the buildings are set upon the street in an urban format with a store at the corner. While these are built on the street, they also offer a suburban quality in that they are essentially twin-type buildings, representing a transitory period in the development of West Philadelphia.

Kalathil disagrees with the nomination’s claims regarding the historical nature of the buildings. In his proposal presented to the commission against the designation, he wrote:

I disagree with the proposal that [Powers] was a visionary in building these buildings to leverage on the trolleys operated by Philadelphia Traction Company. And by so doing it acted as the catalyst for the rapid development of West Philadelphia in late 1800’s.

In the plea, which Kalathil provided to Curbed Philly, he goes onto say, however, that the primary reason he objects to the designation is financial. "As a small landlord I have very limited time and money and I would have little hope for being profitable if I am forced to deal with the additional requirements of this designation. [...] In fact I would not want to have a rental property with this designation even if someone gave it to me for free."

The designations come at a highly-contested time for the block of rowhomes in University City. One property has already been demolished and replaced with a new apartment building. When news spread that demo permits had been pulled for another two properties owned by Penn, the University City Historical Society moved nominate it and other homes on the block for historic designation.

The other property still in limbo is 4042-44 Chestnut. It’s currently under temporary injunction until a decision is made regarding its historic designation.