Hmm, a bit of funny business as 2nd half of Latona Court hits a snag

The gorgeous, imposing Latona Court development has been under construction for nearly a year, with the six homes in Phase 2 being completed now.

Six more homes going up at 12th and Latona
Six more homes going up at 12th and Latona

But expect that a dirt lot will remain on the north side of those homes at 1204-10 South 12th Street, for at least a little while. The proposal for the remaining six homes was voted down last month by the Passyunk Square Civic’s zoning committee, 4-1. Several members of the committee told us that neighbors thought developer Gagan Lakhmna pulled a “bait and switch.”

Imagine one gigantic house there, or six merely large homes with parking for 12 cars
Imagine one gigantic house there, or six merely large homes with parking for 12 cars

Lakhmna’s original proposal for the site, which used to have an ugly warehouse with an uglier flag mural, was for a single family home on that big-ass portion of the lot, according to the August 2011 zoning notice:

Demolish existing structure (zoned light industrial) to make way for construction of one large single-family home (1212 S. 12th St.), 9 single-family townhomes (1214 S. 12th St.) and 1 mixed-use structure with commercial space on first floor and two single-family dwellings on the 2nd and 3rd floors (1216 S. 12th St.).

The nine homes are the ones already finished or under construction and 1216 is the one on the south side of Latona street that’s already done. Lakhmna came back to the zoning committee last month saying he “was going to build a large single family home but due to personal reasons (which he did not share) he wanted to build 6 more units,” said one member of the zoning committee.  “So the neighbors thought it was a bait and switch.” Click here for the site plan.

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Separately, neighbors were concerned about the amount of traffic from a total of 15 units when you combine it with the elementary school right across from the development’s common driveway and the fact that 50 units are being developed as the Wharton Street Lofts at the old Annunciation school nearby.

Meanwhile, it’s understandable that there could be an issue with trusting the developer. We’ve certainly thought all along that it was going to be 15 units, and that’s what the realtor has been saying. Noah Ostroff’s office told us that the six homes in the back, 2,500 square feet each with 2-car parking, will be going for $459k. And Lakhmna is the same developer who got into trouble when the real-estate bubble burst and all those developments by CREI in Northern Liberties went bust.

Looks like he’ll have to go back to the drawing board, or else we’ll be stuck with a dirt lot for quite some time.

6 thoughts on “Hmm, a bit of funny business as 2nd half of Latona Court hits a snag

  • March 11, 2013 at 9:11 am

    A rep from the developer went door to door on Friday looking for support for continuing the project. I signed the petition, not realizing Gagan was behind this… grrr. He failed to settle some of his bills during the NoLibs problems, which directly impacted some of our professional neighbors. I jumped to the (incorrect) conclusion that this project was being held up by some min

  • March 11, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Hi Kara,
    Not sure where you were going with that comment but let me give an endorsement of the PSCA’s zoning committee (on which I used to serve but no longer do). There may be zoning committees at other civics that bend a little too much to NIMBYism and knee-jerk neighbor opposition but these folks are not like that. There are at least two experienced real estate attorneys, two architects, and a good mix of relatively recent residents and long timers who represent those who have been in the neighborhood for 30 years and those who plan on being there for the next 30 years. I was on the committee when this project first came up and can attest that many of the answers to questions we put to the developer were some variation of “I wouldn’t let anything happen there that would be bad for the neighborhood since I plan to live right there with my family.” (For example, when we asked what kind of retail he envisioned for that first floor space in the building on the southwest corner of 12th and Latona… that was the answer.) If he had played it straight from the beginning we might have approved the 15 homes. The lot has the space for it. We just would have needed a lot of assurances to minimize the impact. But that conversation didn’t happen. Having since left the committee and having not been at this most recent meeting I can’t speak to how the opposition came about but I can fully understand why they’d want to put the brakes on this rather than be railroaded by this developer with the “we’ve already started, you may as well let us finish” argument. I invite you to check out a zoning committee meeting so you can see what I’m talking about with the committee.

    • March 11, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      I fully support the civic zoning committee and their hard work! My phone cut me off – I thought there was some minor paperwork obstacle, and not PCSA opposition. I just chatted with the developer rep and didn’t read (shame on me!) the petition form, as my young son was busily involved asking questions about construction machines… My first comment was to add info that they are collecting signatures, and I mistakenly signed.

    • March 13, 2013 at 11:28 am

      The neighbors and PSCA zoning may not like the project or the developer, but he actually has a pretty good argument for a variance. As you know, variances are granted based on *hardship*, not general neighbor sentiment. Neighbors may not like the curb cut, or the height of the buildings, or the developer’s tactics, but none of those issues was even in question.

      The rejections were two:
      First was about a technicality revolving around a difference in interpretation about the orientation of the buildings. The houses are clearly oriented North-South, but ZBA was considering them as an East-West orientation. So, ZBA was rejecting the plan saying there was not enough outdoor space in the “rear” which it considered the far West edge of the property. In fact, the North sides of the property include decent outdoor space.

      Second was about the width of the driveway, which by code is supposed to be something like 24 feet. The plans allow 18′ width for the driveway, which is actually *wider* than neighboring Latona street!

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