Residents, zoning board reject proposal for short-term rental apartment units in Passyunk Square

Domio approached the property’s owner, Noah Ostroff of real estate agency Philly Living, in October of last year looking to lease out the apartments.

1340 S. 13th Street while it was under construction. | Courtesy Google Maps

The Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously voted against a variance necessary to convert a new building at the corner of 13th and Reed streets into an “apartment hotel” for a new AirBnB-like company called Domio. Domio approached the property’s owner, Noah Ostroff of real estate agency Philly Living, in October of last year looking to lease out the apartments. Domio is a company that master leases out buildings to create apartment style hotels that are managed and maintained for people looking to stay in the area (it differs from AirBnB in the sense that the units are not rented out by individual owners). According to Domio representative John Palmer, who was present at the ZBA hearing, the difference between the two companies is that Domio is “professionally managed.”

“Their operation is not like a traditional hotel,” said the development team’s zoning attorney, Hercules Grigos, at the ZBA meeting. “There’s no front desk [or] restaurant space. They rent furnished apartments, which are professionally managed, maintained and cleaned, unlike a typical AirBnB where somebody just rents out their house when they go away for the weekend or what have you.” Palmer added that Domio has a “24/7 guest experience team” to handle guests’ needs “if they request tissue paper or things along those lines.”

At the meeting, Palmer and Grigos sold Domio as a neighborhood asset. It would be a space for residents’ out-of-town guests to stay, and people would be coming via Amtrak or by plane, which would lessen the impact on parking, they said. According to Passyunk Square Civic Association president Sarah Anton, residents generally opposed the variance. A straw poll taken at a recent PSCA meeting revealed that attendees were against the variance by a margin of 40-16. Zoning board chair Frank DiCicco took an informal poll among the ZBA meeting’s attendees to get an idea of how many people supported and opposed the variance. In a similar proportion to the PSCA straw poll, only two people raised their hand in support while roughly 12 were against it.

“Mr. Grigos and Domio team heard a great deal of negative feedback from both the community and the zoning committee,” said Anton at the ZBA meeting.

PSCA vice president Andrew Stober offered some of his own criticism at the ZBA meeting: “We were very excited, many of us in this neighborhood, when this property opened to be able to welcome new neighbors,” he said. “We’ve heard the economic argument for why this might be good for the neighborhood. But frankly, our neighborhood is more than just about the economic development of the neighborhood. It’s about the social and civic development of the neighborhood and having new neighbors and new people to contribute not just to the economic life of our neighborhood but to the social and civic life. Having a hotel use at this site contributes nothing in that regard.”

In an email, Ostroff told SPR that he’s willing to work with Domio in the future and called them a “great company.”

“We are disappointed that the neighborhood did not see the value they would bring to the neighborhood,” Ostroff said. Going forward, Philly Living plans to rent the units out.

The company currently operates in eight cities, including Boston, Chicago and New York. Philadelphia would be the ninth if the company can eventually find a spot in the city to operate.

Correction: This article more accurately describes Domio’s business model. A previous version of the article said that Domio is a platform for residents to rent out their apartments, which is not not the case.