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Art Commission tables request for additional floor on new Family Court Building

Were those who have opposed the construction of a new Family Court building on an empty lot at 15th and Arch streets all along, simply taking advantage of another opportunity to present their case?

Or was the Art Commission, in issuing a routine approval of a proposed change to the already under-construction building, rushing to push the project along?

It was a little bit of a both at Wednesday’s single-item Art Commission agenda, but ultimately it proved to be much ado about not too much.

Problems arose after the Commission approved the change to the EwingCole-designed structure— the addition of one more 15-foot high story, in light of a favorable bidding climate that has brought construction costs under control — without first asking for public commentary.

As the Commission seemed ready to move on, two men stood in protest. It took a few moments before anyone at the table even appeared to notice, but they were eventually invited to say their pieces.

Jeff Reinhold of Reinhold Residential, which owns the neighboring Art Deco Metropolitan apartment building, spoke first.

He cited concerns over zoning and setback regulations, as well as the impact that the now-higher Court building will have on the light, sightlines and views of the apartment building.

He also questioned whether the new height met legal restrictions that govern buildings fronting on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Commissioner Emmanuel Kelly dismissed the impact concerns, saying they’d been extensively discussed two years ago when plans were first submitted, and that City Council had approved the relevant zoning changes.

One additional story shouldn’t affect the discussion, he offered. Commission Chair Moe Brooker then appeared to question the intent of Reinhold’s objections, and emphasized that the Commission’s sole purview was to talk about design.

Edward S. Panek, the zoning chair of Logan Square Neighborhood Association, next spoke, urging Commissioners that there was “no need to make a decision today.” As had Reinhold, he mentioned the need for community stakeholders, such as Friends Central, to be given a voice on the impact of the added height.

Brooker then presented what he called a “generous compromise,” by offering to amend the approval to include a contingency based on the legality of the added height.

Other commissioners, however, protested and, ultimately, the original approval vote was vacated and a new motion approved to table the discussion until the next meeting. At that meeting, community stakeholders will presumably present new research to back up their case.

Stay tuned.

Contact the reporter at jgreco@planphilly.com and follow her on Twitter @joanngreco

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