The proposed development of a hotly-debated apartment building in West Philly — which drew widespread attention in March when opponents requested “fecal samples” of nearby residents in an effort to establish a link between gentrification and colorectal cancer — cleared a major hurdle this week, receiving approval from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Construction of the 76-unit building, dubbed the “poop building” on Twitter, is expected to begin within the next six to 10 months, once developer Meir Gelley has obtained the required permits and signed building contracts. It will be located on the site of a former dog park at 48th Street and Chester Avenue.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Gelley’s attorney, Brett Feldman, said Friday.
Gelley helped win local support by agreeing to reduce the height of the building and set aside 15 units for affordable housing, priced at 40% of median income, for 50 years. Those concessions had been agreed to months ago, but were finalized in a written agreement with the Cedar Park Neighbors registered community organization on Tuesday, according to Feldman.
“This approval would not have been possible without the support, time, courage, and efforts of a number of neighbors — all volunteers — who were committed to creating a precedent that would help to guide future private development in the neighborhood while attempting to address the complex issues of affordability and equity,” Feldman said.
There has also been serious opposition to the project, including that of Councilmember Jamie Gauthier and at least 600 people who signed a petition against it. Gauthier, who has an urban planning background, announced her opposition last month.
Some opponents also testified at Wednesday’s meeting of the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA).
“I know it’s not the job of the ZBA to solve this dilemma of gentrification and displacement, but it certainly should not make zoning decisions that encourage it,” said Matty McGettigan, representing the West Philadelphia Progressive Planning and Preservation community organization, WHYY reported. “Preventing displacement and stabilizing neighborhoods are important components of any effort to promote the general welfare of all our citizens, so please consider the harm this development would inflict on this special neighborhood.”
Gauthier said Friday that she’d continue to push for affordable housing in her district.
“I’ve devoted decades of my career towards the creation and preservation of affordable housing in Philadelphia, and I continue to believe deeply in residents’ right to have a strong say in the vision for their neighborhoods,” she said in a statement. “My team and I will continue striving towards this goal in the months and years to come.”
In March, the project attracted additional attention beyond West Philadelphia when a local community group distributed a letter seeking stool samples from residents as it sought to “investigate if the development would adversely affect the neighbors’ microbiota and increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer.”
“Could you please donate your fecal sample (a fingernail size)?” West Philly United Neighbors asked in the letter. “All equipment needed for you to collect the fecal sample by yourself at your convenience will be provided by us.”
The study was being run by Ang Sun, an assistant professor of biology at Temple University. The community group had claimed on its website that biomedical researchers from Temple had received funding from the National Cancer Institute to investigate “bad germs associated with irresponsible development.”
But Temple quickly disavowed the study, saying the university’s Institutional Review Board hadn’t reviewed or approved the research. NCI later told the Inquirer it has no record of funding any such research.
References to Temple, NCI, and the fecal-matter study were quickly removed from West Philly United Neighbors’ website.