A Lansdale business owner wanted to build seven apartments inside the former Fifth Street Pub — gutting the downstairs bar area.
After Tuesday’s zoning hearing board, what he got was four.
The site at West Fifth Street and Towamencin Avenue presents an issue: it is a non-conforming use in the C-Residential zoning district.
Apartments are not permitted by right in that district. The building had been used and allowed to operate as a boarding house and pub for a number of years, and its existence dates to before the incorporation of the borough zoning code.
In order for owner Mohammed Rafiuzzaman to add more apartments, the zoning hearing board had to grant a variance for the continuance of and the expansion of the non-conforming use within the building.
The thing is, per zoning code, two parking spaces are required per apartment.
So, through architect Mitchell Abramowitz, Rafiuzzaman submitted additional variance requests for parking and driveway waivers.
Namely, there are only 12 spaces proposed total for the property, which does not allow required parking for seven apartments. Nine of those are proposed on the property. Rafiuzzaman proposed dedicating three additional spaces for parking at his lot at his business, Corner Masala, at Fifth and Cannon.
Also, Rafiuzzaman wanted to create a one-way exit onto Towamencin Avenue, but could only provide an 8-foot-wide exit instead of the required 15 feet.
In the end, the board approved the continuance and expansion of the non-conforming use, and denied the parking and driveway requests because of “safety and health” concerns.
“You could certainly eliminate the variance for the parking as a result of a fewer number of units,” said zoning hearing board Chair Dave Boland.
“It’s economics,” said Abramowitz. “Renting a one-bedroom unit to a couple is better than trying to rent a two-bedroom unit because there are probably people with children who wouldn’t be so apt to rent in that location.”
“Economics and income,” said Boland.
“We are looking to eliminate what was an eyesore and a bad neighbor, so to speak, and replace it with something much more profitable for the neighborhood,” Abramowitz said. “Looking at the building, it isn’t going to look anything like that when we’re finished with it.”
Abramowitz proposed seven apartments: Four one-bedrooms on the second floor, two one-bedrooms on the first floor and one two-bedroom on the first floor.
Seven units, he said, means two spaces per unit.
“With seven units, the borough requires two spaces per unit. That would give us 14 spaces. There isn’t enough room on the property to put 14 spaces, including one handicapped space,” he said.
He said the expectation that every 10 will have two automobiles is rather remote. He said Rafiuzzaman wants to demolish pieces of the exterior building, which would leave space between the building next door. He said they will turn the parking area into a one-way, exit-only 8-foot-wide exit. He said the length of parking spaces would be 12 feet instead of 15 feet.
“We are reducing the building footprint and increasing slightly the amount of green area on the property,” Abramowitz said. “The existing building doesn’t conform at all.”
Abramowitz said two fire exits are needed for the second floor, per Lansdale Borough code.
According to the International Building Code, he said, only one exit is required for four units or less.
“We are going to have to apply for a variance from the borough council to try and eliminate the second exit from the second floor,” Abramowitz said. “Because the building stretches from property line to property line, there is no possible way to get a second exit.”
Zoning board member Connie Lazenby said a stairway could be built inside the building.
“If we do that, it cuts down the amount of area we can use for the apartments,” Abramowitz said.
Lazenby also had an issue with no windows on the first floor, per the draft plan.
“No thought yet has been done to the final design,” Abramowitz said. “We don’t want to put up an ugly building.”
Boland said that was discouraging.
“Can you appreciate how that information might help us going forward? Frankly, this isn’t the first time this has happened. I thought at some point we made it clear that this is helpful information for us. Yet we continue to not get it.”
Abramowitz said he didn’t want to leave bad impressions now or in the future.
“I assure you the final aesthetics will be done in a proper manner that will be acceptable to almost everyone,” he said. “Everything will conform to the building code that is currently adopted by the borough. Economics isn’t the venue of this board, but until we know which direcetion we are going, I didn’t want to spend a lot of my time doing a design which is going to be thrown in the trash. Once we get the approval and get the variances, I can concentrate on coming up with an acceptable design.”
Additional parking for the property would be on-street, which would be reduced with the construction of an exit onto Towamencin Avenue.
That didn’t sit well with property owner Neil Migliaccio, who was complaining that he would lose on-street parking spaces for his apartment building next door. He also complained about rainwater flooding his basement that was coming from Rafiuzzaman's property, and wants it resolved. He said Rafiuzzaman pumped “hundreds of gallons of water” out of his basement and flowed onto Migliaccio’s property on Tuesday.
At one point, Migliaccio told Rafiuzzaman he could get rid of the problem if Rafiuzzaman buys his property.
“You can buy my place,” he said, adding that Rafiuzzaman could make more apartments. “That’s a good idea.”
The on-street parking sentiment was shared by resident Pamela Budish, of Towamencin Avenue.
Mark Rice, who lives across the street from the property, had some harsh words on the structural integrity of the building.
“I’ve put up with that eyesore for 23 years. You can smile, but I’m not. That place is structurally unsound. You should get a building inspector to go in there. The foundation is literally sinking into the ground. It’s a disaster,” he said. “What he’s going to do, taking the buildings out next to it, that’s just going to create more of a mess on Towamencin Avenue.”
Abramowitz said the entire structure is under investigation.
“Nothing is going to be done as far as new construction until the new structure is stablizied or fixed,” he said. “All the flooring has been removed so we can inspect the stuructre. Everything’s exposed. Every piece will be investigated or replaced.”