Hangley Aronchick has secured an important appellate win halting a real estate developer from building an oversized apartment complex atop the Painted Bride Art Center in Old City.

Hangley Aronchick’s clients, a group of entities with ownership stakes in a neighboring apartment building, the Chocolate Works, appealed the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment’s grant of three substantial zoning variances to the developer. The appellants argued that the Zoning Board had improperly concluded that the developer would face an unnecessary hardship without these variances based on the illusory need to preserve one of Isaiah Zagar’s many mosaics, which covers the Painted Bride building’s façade. The developer had initially planned to demolish the Painted Bride building, along with the mosaic, after the property was sold in 2017, but later abandoned those designs to pursue the apartment complex project at issue. The appellants also argued that the developer failed to consider other options to keep the structure within normal zoning limits, and instead presented the false choice of “these variances, or the mosaic goes.”

On June 21, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Coyle sided with Hangley Aronchick in finding that “the record abundantly established that the three voting members of the Zoning Board had impermissibly relied upon Applicant’s bootstrapped and baseless hardship claims to render a decision that had been well beyond their granted authority.”  The judge also noted that the record demonstrated a “distinct dearth of deliberation of alternative proposals for structures that could both preserve the mural and remain with the zoning prescriptions,” and that the Zoning Board had also ignored “compelling evidence of the critically negative impact that the proposed structure would naturally impose upon the surrounding neighborhood buildings.”

Litigation Practice Group members Cary Rice and John Summers represented the appellants JAR Chocolate Works L.P., JAR Holdings II LLP, and JAR Chocolate Works GP LLC in this matter.

Click here to read coverage in The Philadelphia Inquirer.