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Bella Vista townhouse could stand in the way of community art

Neighbors in Bella Vista have collected $250,000 to prevent a planned townhouse from blocking a street mural called "Autumn." The Zoning Board of Adjustment heard arguments for and against a zoning variance for the lot at Ninth and Bainbridge Streets, but deferred its decision, hoping the issue is resolved independently.

A neighborhood petition with more than 1,000 names, accompanied by pledges totaling a quarter of a million dollars, was presented to zoning board members at a recent meeting. The residents teamed up with the mural's artist and want to purchase the parking lot next to the mural to ensure an unobstructed view of the artwork.

Proponents of the community's plan say the mural attracts tourists and business to Bella Vista. The wall art is one of 17 murals that visitors see on a guided tour conducted by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, which supports the residents' plan.

"Autumn" is one in a series of four seasonal pieces created by the same artist and displayed in Center City, Queen Village and Bella Vista.

The attorney for the owner of the Ninth and Bainbridge property says the community's efforts to buy the parking lot fall far short of the money a townhouse would generate. The land owner estimates the worth of the land after development would be $600,000.

The property owner had once considered creating permanent parking spaces on the lot for neighborhood residents with a price tag of $45,000 per space. The reaction from residents was so negative that it soured the relationship his client had with the community, according to the lawyer.

Zoning authorities postponed a decision on the variance proposal. Officials think a two-week delay may be enough time for neighbors and the land owner to come to an agreement.

Some community residents and the executive director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program were less than hopeful that the townhouse would not be built. A few art lovers were resigned to the idea that preserving the mural for community display may require recreating it in another location.

Source: philly.com, "Planned townhouse imperils Autumn mural at Ninth and Bainbridge," Reity O'Brien, Oct. 28, 2011

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