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Commonwealth Court Rules in Favor of Keeping Philadelphia Beautiful

On August 9, 2010, the Court in the case of Callowhill Center Assocs. LLC v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment, 2 A.3d 802 (Pa.Commw. Ct 2010)  ruled against Callowhill Center Associates’ appeal against the Zoning Board for its denial of a variance to erect a mega-sized vinyl advertising wall wrap located in a protected area of the Vine Street Corridor.  For the second time, the building owner appeared before the state court appealing a denial of a variance for the 9,750 square foot sign at 413-53 North 7th Street.

The Commonwealth Court made two important rulings that will positively affect community groups.

First, it denied Callowhill’s attempt to quash the community groups right to participate as intervening parties, by  distinguishing this  case  from Spahn v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment 977 A.2d 1132, 602 Pa. 83 (Pa., 2009) . Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, Old City Civic and SCRUB were allowed to participate.  Callowhill’s attempts to further eliminate the rights of citizens and community groups to participate in zoning failed.  The Commonwealth Court prevented this in very clear language. Commonwealth Judge Patricia McCullough wrote: “Neither Spahn not section 17.1 of the Home Rule Act affected section 14-1807(2) of the Code, which permits parties who appeared before the Board to intervene as of right in an appeal to the trial court.”

Second , the Court found “that Callowhill was precluded from raising any of its arguments in this case by the doctrine of res judicata” because the property owner, Callowhill was requesting a variance for the same size and “type of sign that was at issue in Callowhill I.”

In the first Callowhill, dating back to 2002, the owners appealed the decision of the Zoning Board for a 9,750 square foot wall wrap and neglected to raise the issue of constitutionality at that time. The Court ruled that they cannot come back a second time with new arguments. Many thanks to our volunteer attorney Samuel C. Stretton who has represented the community groups in this matter every step of the way. We also wish to thank City of Philadelphia Law Department for their defense of the rights of participating parties to intervene.

For twenty years SCRUB’s members have supported our vision and provided the resources we needed to lead this important work.  When you look around our city and see the naked beauty of Philadelphia’s architecture, realize that you have helped us to preserve   hundreds of buildings from being covered with vinyl advertising wraps.