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Zoning board denies Quaker warehouse apartment conversion

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It’s back to the drawing board for developer Post Brothers

An aerial view of the proposed conversion of an old Quaker warehouse in Philly into apartments with a roof deck and pool.
Plans to turn the Quaker warehouse building into apartments have hit a roadblock.
Renderings by Coscia Moos Architecture

Plans to turn a blighted North Philly warehouse into a mixed-use development with apartments and retail hit a snag Wednesday when the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) denied the developer’s request for a zoning variance.

Last week, local developer Post Brothers announced that it was in the works to buy the old Quaker building at 900-58 N. 9th Street and Poplar. The developer planned to turn the 10-story, 380,000-square-foot property into a luxury apartment building with 350 units on the third through 10th floors and commercial and office space on the first two levels.

The property is zoned industrial, so a variance was requested for mixed-use residential use.

At yesterday’s hearing, the ZBA denied the request 4 to 1, stating that the current zoning did not present any hardships and the building should be continued to be used for industrial purposes.

When reached for comment via e-mail following Wednesday’s hearing, Post Brothers’ Michael Pestronk expressed frustration with what he called the board’s “beyond disingenuous” and politically motivated decision.

A large abandoned building in Philadelphia. There is an elevated train track in front of the building. The building has many windows and an orange facade.
The Quaker warehouse building in the Poplar neighborhood.
Courtesy of Loopnet

The Quaker building is currently owned by Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation and dates back to 1918, when it served as a warehouse for Strawbridge & Clothier. Later, it became a facility for Quaker Storage Company.

But for the past two decades or so, the building has sat vacant. Pestronk argued that restoring the property for industrial use isn’t economically feasible for a number of a reasons, including building’s current dilapidated state.

“Prevailing industrial rents would not support the renovation costs necessary to make the building” workable, according to Pestronk.

In the beginning stages of the project, neighbors expressed concern of being priced out of the apartments, which Post Brothers told the Inquirer would be available “be affordable to renters earning a first-year teacher’s salary,” or $45,360 a year.

Still, going into Wednesday’s zoning meeting Post Brothers said it had the support of two Registered Community Organizations (RCO’s). The developer had promised to work out a community benefit agreements with the neighborhood, including hiring local minority-owned companies for the project.

But with the zoning request denied, it’s back to the drawing board. Pestronk said Post Brothers will appeal the decision, adding, “We will continue to work with the RCOs, and the community benefit agreements we signed will take effect when the project gets off the ground.”