Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Lesser of Two Evils

Tonight is the monthly Zoning Board Hearing at Municipal Hall at 7 pm. Nothing really earth-shattering on the agenda, but one of the items had me thinking how often Norristown has a choice of options, none of which are really good for our community.

In this case, at 672 Kohn Street, our choice is between an abandoned neighborhood bar and too many apartments in too small of a house.

The landlord, Santiago Ramos who lives outside of Norristown on North Whitehall Road in West Norriton, wants to convert the vacant downstairs bar of the house to a 3-bedroom, 2 bath apartment. The house already has 2 other apartments on the 2nd and 3rd floor. (Looking at the photo, you can imagine how small the 3rd floor apartment must be.) The apartments, as far as I can tell, are accessed by fire escapes at the rear (see the photo below).

Mr. Ramos is the new owner (as of April). You can tell from the photos that the old owner didn't take great care of the property, from the uneven bricks under the 3rd floor windows, to the odd pointing job next to the door, to the crumbling sidewalk and blacktop at the back. I would hope Mr. Ramos would fix up the building a bit and make it look nicer.

Though my point today is simply to look at the uses of the property. Neighborhood bars, since "Cheers" was on TV, have been romanticized a bit, but the reality is, especially in neighborhoods where there's no buffer zone between the bar and the closest houses, is that most people wouldn't move in next to a bar. Unless they're extremely well-kept, their presence lowers the property values. All the more so if they look like as rundown as 672 Kohn St. Where we could use an extra bar and more nightlife is downtown near the theaters.

But in Norristown, so many of our small rowhouses are already triplex or larger multi-family dwellings. Our parking is maxed out. Trash, when that many families live on top of each other, is so big a problem that the alleys are filled with it 7 days a week. Sometimes our streets, too.

On that block of Kohn Street, no matter what time of day, parking spots are filled up. Kohn is one-way toward the river, so you have to go around several blocks to get back to the 700 block of Kohn to look for parking there. Oak Street seems to only have parking on one side in that block.

In the photo of the rear of 672 Kohn, you can see that there's room for only about 2 parking spots behind the building. With 3 units inside, the requisite amount the owner must provide is supposed to be 6 spaces. So that would be another variance.

But, still, assuming Mr. Ramos fixes the place up and that his rentors are responsible people, an occupied apartment is probably better than a bar, and far better than anything vacant.

So, a choice of two evils. Which seems to be the norm in these situations.

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