Design committee hears strong support for development at 43rd and Baltimore

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell is now supporting the development of an apartment building at 43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue in West Philly, across the street from Clark Park.

Blackwell had previously declined to introduce a zoning bill that would have allowed the project—which the developers designed through a community process that was uncommonly inclusive, by most accounts—to proceed by right. The project will go to the zoning board for variances at the end of the month. A representative of Blackwell’s office told the Civic Design Review Committee on Tuesday that she supports the appeal.

The project would replace a vacant lot with a 78-foot brick-and-glass building, including 132 apartments and retail space along Baltimore Avenue. Plans include 60 parking spaces for cars and 50 spaces for bicycles.

On Tuesday, the Civic Design Review Committee had generally positive comments about the project, which was designed by one of its members, Cecil Baker. (Baker recused himself from the meeting.)

The project also drew praise from the Spruce Hill Civic Association and Southwest District Services, two Registered Community Groups that work in the area. Both groups said the developers, U3 Ventures, has bent over backward to accommodate neighbors’ input. One Spruce Hill member said he appreciated the developers respecting the scale of the neighborhood without trying to replicate the Victorian houses it’s known for.

Doug Naphas, president of the Friends of Clark Park, said his group supports the project as well.

Spruce Hill resident Mary McGettigan was the lone dissenter. She said she regretted breaking up the unanimity of the praise, but that the project is far too big for the property’s zoning, which allows low-density multifamily residential, has a height limit of 38 feet, and prohibits retail uses. McGettigan, who pointed out she’d graduated from the Citizens Planning Institute, said the project falls short on urbanist grounds as well: 60 parking spaces on a corridor served by buses and trolleys is too many, and the space should be used for something else, she said.

McGettigan objected most to the process the development has followed, saying U3 Ventures had essentially threatened the community with an ugly, four-story, by-right project to drum up support for the current proposal.

Blackwell has not introduced a neighborhood remapping bill for the area which was prepared by the Planning Commission after going through the Philadelphia2035 district planning process. Even under the proposed zoning, though, the U3 Ventures proposal would still need a zoning variance for height.

The project will go to the ZBA on Wednesday, April 29th, at 2 p.m., with the apparent support of a majority of the neighbors, Registered Community Organizations, and Councilwoman Blackwell’s office.

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