City Council passes zoning ordinance allowing parking garage to be built adjacent to historic Arch Street church

A parking garage with ground floor retail can be built adjacent to historic Arch Street United Methodist Church, thanks to zoning legislation passed by City Council Thursday.

Months ago, developer Dennis Maloomian’s 530-space garage project – to be located at Arch and Juniper Streets, just off of Broad Street – drew concern from members and leaders of the church and the also-historic Masonic Temple, as well as some residents of Center Square.

There were worries that vibrations from construction could damage the historic buildings and would block views and light from the windows.

By the time the project came up for Planning Commission approval last month, the developer and the community had reached agreement that made residents and church and temple advocates more comfortable. Still, one concern of Arch Street Methodist nearly resulted in the tabling of the bill.

After last month’s planning commission meeting, Arch Street Methodist Pastor Robin Hynicka said Maloomian, of Realen Properties, offered to set aside a self-contained shaft in one corner of the garage that the church could use to house new mechanical systems and an elevator that would give more people access to the church.

First District Councilman Frank DiCicco, who introduced the legislation that allows the garage project to be built, said that as of this morning, the church still had concerns that it might lose this amenity in the future if the garage is ever replaced by another entity.

“They want it in perpetuity, but you can’t do that in a deed,” DiCicco said. During the meeting, DiCicco got word that the church was comfortable enough for the bill to go up for a vote. At the end of the meeting, he asked Council President Anna Verna to call it up, saying things were in order, afterall.

“We are going to work something out, to figure out a way to give the church some protection,” he said. This might require an amendment of the law in the future, he said.
The developer has also agreed to do vibration studies and repair any damage that occurred, Hynicka said last month. The upper floors of the garage will be set back from the street to protect the view, and artificial lights will illuminate stained glass windows that will be blocked.

Also at the planning meeting, Andrew McReynolds, an attorney representing the Masonic Temple, said his clients’ concerns were also being addressed.

There was some discussion at the planning commission about whether a parking garage was the best use for so prominent a site at the city’s center. Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger, who is also the chairman of the planning commission, said that there was little else that would work on the site, and that since some parking was eaten up by the expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, there was a need for parking.

The developer has plans, through a separate partnership, to renovate the nearby Liberty Title building into a hotel. Greenberger said that’s the really desirable project, and he’ll be displeased if the developer doesn’t also produce that project.

The bill passed by City Council deals only with the zoning issues that stood in the way of building the garage. The design and facade of the structure must get separate planning staff approval before the project can get a building permit.

According to the presentation project attorney Peter Kelsen and architect Scott Erdy made to the commission last month, the ground floor of the garage project would be filled with 16,000-square feet of retail space, with large windows facing Arch Street. The upper parking floors would be sheathed with a reflective, silvery cloth.

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