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Developer presents updated plans for Piers 34 and 35 to CDAG

Representatives of Ensemble Real Estate, the developer proposing to build several new residential projects on the Central Delaware, presented updated plans for an apartment building on Piers 34 and 35 to the Central Delaware Advocacy Group Thursday morning. Though the project’s loading dock has been moved out of street view, and the portion of the building that fronts on Columbus Ave. has been brought down to 100 feet to fit the Master Plan, waterfront advocates still question what public benefit the developer is providing in exchange for building another portion of the building above the suggested 100-foot height limit.

Attorney Ron Patterson of Klehr Harrison said the developer plans to present the project as-is to the Planning Commission on August 21st, seeking final approval. Members of CDAG plan to prepare comments on the project and testify at the same meeting.

According to David Ertz, principal at Cope Linder Architects, the firm which is designing the project, the building will contain 209 residential units, along with 209 parking spots, some of which will be dedicated to car-shares. The trash and loading area will be hidden from street view, as will a ramp leading up to a two-level parking garage. The parking garage itself is screened from street view by residential units.

In addition to the 100-foot portion of the building that fronts on Columbus, the project includes a 180-foot section set back from the street. Ertz said that without the taller portion for more residential units, the project is not economically feasible. He said to build out further into the river rather than higher above it would require the developer to sink new pilings, which would be cost-prohibitive.

“To simply take away this [180-foot] piece would make the project infeasible,” Ertz said.

CDAG members questioned what public amenities the project would provide; representatives of the developer admitted it would essentially provide none. The southern edge of the building would include a “promenade” along the river, which would give members of the public access to the car-shares. However, the promenade as planned would only be eight feet wide, and wouldn’t provide a destination for public activity.

CDAG chair Matt Ruben asked whether the walkway could be widened, or lengthened to surround the entire pier. Ertz said extending or widening it would require the removal of some parking spots, which would also make the project too expensive. The project includes more parking spots than required under either the current or new zoning code.  

Members of the advocacy group, as well as the Planning Commission, have questioned why the project doesn’t include retail space on the ground level. The developer has maintained that there is simply no demand for retail in the area. However, the updated plans call for an “open, glassy space” in some corners of the ground floor, which could eventually be developed as retail. In the short term, Ensemble plans to put a fitness center on the ground floor.

David Ertz has repeatedly said he does not believe the waterfront development will be able to support retail uses for at least 25 years. But he said that when retail does become viable in the area, the ground floor can be converted into retail space.

Some CDAG members believe the waterfront will support retail much sooner. After Ertz and Patterson left the meeting, Matt Ruben said “it borders on irresponsible to publicly say” that the waterfront won’t support retail for a quarter century.

The project will not meet the requirements for LEED Certification, but will include a stormwater catchment.

David Ertz said the developer will spend the next six to nine months getting environmental approvals, and hopes to get a building permit from L&I and begin construction next summer. The project will require no zoning variances, according to Ron Patterson.

In other CDAG news, the group was officially introduced to Karen Thompson who will take over as master planning manager at the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation. Sarah Thorp, who previously held the DRWC position, is leaving to work for the Philadelphia Water Department.

Matt Ruben also reported that Councilman Mark Squilla has scheduled a meeting with both CDAG and the Development Workshop to discuss the zoning overlay for the Central Delaware waterfront. The two groups have been on opposite sides of numerous issues related to the overlay. That meeting will take place later this month.

Renderings of the Pier 34/35 project are attached.

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Contact the reporter at jaredbrey@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @jaredbrey

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