Developer proposes dismantling South Philadelphia pier, building a replacement with residences on top.

Developer Ensemble Real Estate hopes to remove the partially collapsed Piers 34 and 35, replace them with a new pier, and build a 204 unit, 12-floor residential building on top of it.

“The proposal is to completely remove the pier – it is not structurally able to carry the building – and to re-orient a new pier in the shallower water,” project architect David Ertz, of Cope Linder, told the city planning commission during an information only session earlier this month.

The current plan calls for a lower-level fitness center, but that could be moved to a higher floor and replaced by retail “if retail proves viable in this location,” Ertz said.

The second level has residential units on the two most visible facades and parking covered by screening, he said. A terrace level will include a green roof and tree planters to help with stormwater management, and will include large, private terraces for residents.

The placement of the building minimizes the impact of views on nearby Dockside condos, he said.

The facade of the building is composed of multi-floor, vertical panels that were “loosely inspired by a flickering of light on the water,” Ertz said.

To develop this building as planned, Ensemble will need the planning commission’s approval to exceed the 100-foot height limit on buildings within the Central Delaware, which extends from Oregon to Allegheny avenues.

“If you’re going to go over the (height) limitations of the plan, then we need to know  …what’s above and beyond the developer’s interest to the public interest here?” asked Commissioner Nancy Rogo-Trainer.

“What’s the quid pro quo?” echoed Vice Chairman Joe Syrnick.

Ertz said the public benefit was the removal of a dangerous pier.  Commission Chairman Alan Greenberger did not like that answer.

“I don’t disagree there’s a benefit to removing it, but this is a private property that comes with the obligations of that property. I appreciate what you’re saying, but I don’t buy that argument.”

Greenberger suggested that the developer consider adding a second leg to the L-shaped proposal, making it more of a U. That would allow for the same number of units within a lower height, he said.

But that would create a second dark corner in the building, Ertz replied.

Sarah Thorp, planning director for the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which oversees the city’s plans for the central Delaware riverfront, had concerns about the height. She also said the way the building meets the street “is acting as a bit of a wall on Columbus Boulevard and blocking the views down to the waterfront.”

Greenberger, who sits on the DRWC board, said that the master plan doesn’t indicate that there must always be views down to the water, and said there are other places with a much longer, solid expanse of buildings.

Thorp said those buildings existed before the master plan.

She also said that based on her agency’s experience, the developer is likely to have a difficult time getting state and federal permission to build a new pier. The necessary permissions are far from certain, she said, and suggested that the developer might want to come up with a new proposal that uses the existing pier pilings, which might be an easier sell.

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