Design committee has praise, questions for One Water Street proposal

Members of the Civic Design Review committee praised developer PMC Property Group on Tuesday for commissioning a 250-unit apartment complex on the Central Delaware waterfront that doesn’t violate any major principles of the civic vision for the area or require any exceptions to the zoning code.

The zoning overlay for the area, which is meant to implement the civic vision, has been in place for about a year. One Water Street, the proposed development for the site immediately north of the Ben Franklin Bridge, on the west side of Columbus Boulevard, is the first major by-right project to be proposed while the overlay is in place.

Advocates say the proposal proves that the overlay is a reasonable guide for waterfront development.

But it isn’t perfect, and the CDR committee voted for the developer to present the project for design review again.

Among the committee’s suggestions:

  • Focus on using high-quality materials and possibly varying colors on the building facades.

  • “Articulate” the connection between public spaces on the property—which are being provided in return for height bonuses—and other public spaces near the site.

  • Focus more on sustainable elements to seek a higher level of LEED certification. The proposal calls for the base level of certification.

In addition, the committee asked that L&I verify that the project qualifies for the height bonuses under the terms of the overlay.

Cecil Baker, an architect who serves on the CDR committee, said it was a “great disappointment” that the project will include a 13-story building sited on a north-south orientation so that it will block views of the river. Baker said it would be better to have both buildings—one 13 stories and one 16 stories—be oriented to keep the site as open as possible.

The property is laid out in the opposite way, however. It’s about 50 feet along the southern and northern boundaries and around 1,000 feet on the eastern and western boundaries. Architect Stephen Varenhorst said he needed to balance the needs of the project with the constraints of the site. He also said the siting of the project maintains views of the iconic abutments of the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Baker said it would be preferable for the taller building to be allowed to be even taller to avoid blocking river views.

Joe Schiavo, a representative of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, a community organization that deals with waterfront development, said that allowing an even taller tower which might require a variance was not a good idea. The goal of the overlay is to have people build within its constraints, Schiavo said, and this project is doing that.

Karen Thompson of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation also praised the developer for designing a project that responds to waterfront planning goals.

Thompson said DRWC is “very, very, very happy” to see a project that doesn’t provide an excessive amount of parking. The project would include 73 parking spaces and 250 apartment units.

Despite the praise for the project, the developer will need to consider the committee’s comments, make design changes accordingly, and present the project again.

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