Seven apartments is too many for abandoned South Broad mansion, civics say

A developer who wants to turn 2221 S. Broad St. into apartments was told by two civic associations last month that he’s shooting for too much density. Dirk Merill, whose company Georgia Pierce LLC bought the building in February for $365,000, asked for seven apartments in the building’s 4,900 square feet. Not gonna happen.

You may recognize the stucco on the side as what faces the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Bank
You may recognize the stucco on the side as what faces the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Bank

First up was a presentation to the South Broad Street Neighbors Association’s zoning committee by Merill and attorney Richard DeMarco, who is also on the board of the SBSNA. DeMarco claimed that though the zoning permits only allow four units and an office, the building has seven electrical meters in the basement.

Merill said he needed a zoning variance because the way the building is set up, it is difficult to work around the architecture. When the committee asked if the owner planned to gut the house, Merill said he wanted to go down “to the posts” and start over. This made the committee curious, especially chairman Peter Zutter.

“The owner stated that the new units were set up as they were  because of the location of the plumbing stacks,” Zutter said in an interview later. “They are not expensive to replace when the building is gutted and since the building has been vacant, they likely need replacement anyway and can be  relocated.”

Basically, Merill has a blank canvas as well as many options with this new building, including contemplating a new proposal with less units, Zutter said.

“You know, this really is our opportunity to put the brakes on things,” he said. “Many times, these owners live outside the city and what we are often then faced with are absentee landlords, which we all obviously want to avoid.”

The building has been vacant for years
The building has been vacant for years

The committee proposed that Merill and DeMarco go back to the drawing boards, hire an architect to fix the internal issues and think about a five-unit proposal.

The committee ruled for a continuance and suggested that Merill return in a month to see if he can secure an endorsement to the Zoning Board of Adjustments.

Next up was the Lower Moyamensing Civic Association’s zoning committee, but knowing what was coming Merill asked for a continuance to revise his plans. A source at the meeting said Merill told them that he would come back with a proposal for six apartments.

Wait. Huh? Apparently, the advice from the SBSNA about five apartments didn’t sink in.

– Maxwell Reil