PCPC says waterfront will be remapped

The 700 North Delaware massing model by Hoboken Brownstone

City Council bill
Council considering changing controversial Hoboken Brown site on Front Street from C4 to C2 after project stalls. In Rules Committee on June 11.

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May 20
By Matt Golas
For PlanPhilly

Developer Danny Gans is disappointed that his 40-story gambit at 700 North Delaware Avenue didn’t pan out.

He’s also pleased that the Philadelphia City Planning Commission is doing the right thing by the proposed project’s neighbors by rejecting a plan by First District Councilman Frank DiCicco to spot zone the site from C4 (don’t worry about height) to C2 (bring on that big box store).

In a nutshell
The site that Hoboken Brownstone wanted to develop was originally G2 (only industrial, please) until Gans and the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association hammered out trade-offs, give-backs, concessions etc. about accessibilty, parking, mass of building etc. that paved the way for highly sought after C4 status.

But there was a hitch (we are in Philadelphia you know)

If Hoboken Brown couldn’t get the deal done – Gans told PlanPhilly Tuesday the market just dropped the bottom out of the project – the C4 zoning would revert back to G2.

The NLNA had to have that proviso.

The neighbors knew that if the site stayed C4 after Hoboken Brownstone bailed another developer could swoop in and create a project that would not require community approval or recommendations.

So the NLNA was OK with City Council Bill 080381 which called for the C4 to C2 switch for the area bounded by Front Street, Delaware Avenue, Poplar Street and Spring Garden Street.

But they were “caught flatfooted” when they learned late Monday that the planning commission staff was going to recommend disapproving the zoning change.

So when NLNA board member Matt Ruben spoke at the PCPC meeting Tuesday he was hot. Ruben said the NLNA forged its own plan of with the developer and there was an understanding that if Hoboken Brownstone pulled out the zoning would revert back to the original G2 and protect the neighborhood from unrestricted developement.

“The NLNA supports remapping and understands that spot-zoning should come to a halt in Philadelphia,” said Ruben. “But since this project was spot-zoned to begin with, it must be zoned back to its previous zoning before we can start on a new, better process for encouraging development at this and other waterfront-area sites.”

That’s when PCPC vice chair Alan Greenberger and acting director Gary Jastrzab cleared the air.

Jastrzab said the disapproval was appropriate given that the Planning Commission is looking at a way to remap the entire Central Delaware Waterfront using the PennPraxis vision as a guide instead of incrementally rezoning individual parcels. He said it could be done by summer’s end.

And Greenberger said Andrew Altman, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Commerce, has had discussions with DiCicco about that as well as the possibility of a fast zoning overlay on the waterfront, which would inhibit helter skelter development.

While the Planning Commission agreed that there was a need to rezone the property as a temporary measure to prevent by-right development, some members objected to going to C2 because that designation was not restrictive enough to prevent a by-right development in the short-term while the larger zoning remapping was being worked on.

So the commission voted to recommend disapproval of the DiCicco bill as currently constructed with the caveat that representatives of the PCPC would testify in opposition to the bill as worded at the next hearing (June 11) involving the 700 North Delaware parcel zoning designation and call for a comprehensive waterfront zoning strategy.

The back story
The 700 North Delaware Ave. project included four curvilinear residential towers of 40 plus stories on Delaware Avenue one block north of Spring Garden. The back of the site was slated for 5-story townhouses along Front Street, and 5-story parking garage.

The developers (Hoboken Brownstone Co., Danny Gans and George Vallone) and the architect (Bower Lewis Thrower) had plans for 1,050 condominiums in four towers and about 50 low-rise units built around a parking garage.

While the original plans from 2005 showed two box-like towers, the most recent plans called for four slender towers, all semi-circular in plan and arranged along Delaware Avenue in an S-curve configuration. The curvilinear motif continues on the skyline, with the four tower tops sculpted to form what looks like a sine wave. The tallest would be 49 stories. At the back of the site on Front Street, plans called for a five story parking garage hidden by two blocks of low-rise townhouses. A grocery store may also be planned, and developers have agreed to retain and repair the old Belgian block paving of Front Street.

Developers Gans and Vallone are best known for “Maxwell Place” a large condo redevelopment project on a Maxwell House factory site in Hoboken, NJ. Neighborhood activist Matt Ruben said locals were impressed by the quality of design at Maxwell Place and other previous Hoboken Brownstone projects. Ruben said developers seem committed to designing with community input.
Gans had hoped to break ground this summer but “times are tight” due to the well-known troubles in the national home mortgage market.

Gans told PlanPhilly Tuesday that he would still like to make something like this project work in Philadelphia, given workable market conditions.

In other PCPC news

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Any decision on the fate of the Campus Inn at 40th and Pine Streets, a long-stay hotel, cafe and retail project that has been ok’d by the University of Pennsylvania Design Review Committee and excoriated by neighbors (12 spoke out at the PCPC meeting Tuesday) has been tabled until the Planning Commission acquires the information it needs to make a thoughtful decision.

The issues that need more detailed explanations include how the development will fit into the context of a historically significant neighborhood, how the project will impact traffic and how certain requirements for sound planning and design will be enforced after the hotel is operational.

Contact the reporter at mgolas@design.upenn.edu

  

Hoboken Brownstone website

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