Zoning do-over declined for Post Bros.'s Quaker building project, leaving decision to courts

The Quaker warehouse building at 900 N. Ninth St. looms behind homes in Philadelphia’s Poplar section.

Philadelphia zoning officials have voted against revisiting their rejection last month of a plan by the Post Bros. property group to convert a decayed North Philadelphia warehouse into apartments, leaving the fate of the structure known as the Quaker Building to be decided in court.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously Wednesday not to reconsider its Sept. 13 ruling against allowing residences on the 900 N. Ninth St. parcel, which is designated for industrial use, city spokesman Paul Chrystie said in an email Thursday.

Chrystie said the board concluded that the decision did not qualify for reconsideration, which can be granted only if special circumstances exist that were unknown to members at the time of the original hearing.

“There are only limited circumstances where reconsideration is appropriate,” he said. “The board felt that this case did not meet that threshold.”

Post Bros. attorney Ronald Patterson said in an email that he was disappointed by the board’s decision. Patterson had filed the reconsideration request on Sept. 19, aiming to “reiterate and further delineate” the developers’ original argument that the warehouse’s industrial zoning classification was obsolete and prevented them from profitably using the building, according to its text.

The attorney separately filed a Sept. 26 appeal in Common Pleas Court seeking reversal of the zoning board’s decision. He declined to discuss Post Bros.’ grounds for the appeal at this stage in the lawsuit.

Chrystie said the board would respond to the suit “as appropriate in its legal filings, but it is confident that its decision will be upheld.”

The zoning board’s move is the latest twist in Post Bros.’ efforts to tap some of the energy of Northern Liberties by putting 350 new apartments in the long-empty 10-story warehouse built for Strawbridge & Clothier.

The company went before the board last month with the support of the  Planning Commission, which characterized the proposal as consistent with the department’s goals of transitioning obsolete industrial land to other uses, encouraging new development, and increasing neighborhood activity, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Post Bros. also secured the support of community organizations from the site’s largely black and Hispanic neighborhood after pledging in a so-called benefits agreement to employ members of minority groups for half of the project’s construction jobs, among other perks for the area, according to the transcript.

Bruce Crawley, a founder of the Richard Allen Homes New Generation community organization, one of the groups signing off on the agreement, said zoning board panelists with ties to organized labor appeared to object to the deal, which would mean fewer jobs for members of the city’s largely white construction unions.

“If all of those jobs are not going to be done by people who are members of trades, which are now deprived of people of color, then I guess that might have been another reason it was turned down,” Crawley said of last month’s request to the zoning board.

Then-board member Anthony Gallagher, business manager for Steamfitters Local 420, objected to the discussion of “job creation for minority participation” during the hearing, which he said should be devoted to whether the property owner could profitably use it in accordance with the site’s industrial zoning, according to the transcript.

Gallagher has since been replaced on the board by James Snell,  Steamfitters Local 420 business agent, after stepping down from his post Oct. 6 — ahead of Wednesday’s reconsideration vote — “because of time constraints,” Chrystie said.

A message left for Gallagher at his union’s office Thursday morning was not immediately returned.

Post Bros. also feuded with labor leaders over its use of nonunion workers for the construction of its Goldtex building project near 12th and Vine Streets.

Chrystie said the Quaker Building project was not the first Post Bros. development to seek a zoning exception from the board, which also includes Laborers Local 57 field representative Confessor Plaza. A decision by the panel in April allowed the company to build a parking garage near its Presidential City apartment complex at City Avenue near the Schuylkill Expressway, he said.

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