In East Falls, Ridge Flats plan moving forward as former DVHS property goes up for sale

 Ridge Flats, located at the site of the former Rivage Ballroom in East Falls, will consist of 146 apartment units and 9,300 square feet of retail space.  (Photo courtesy of Onion Flats)

Ridge Flats, located at the site of the former Rivage Ballroom in East Falls, will consist of 146 apartment units and 9,300 square feet of retail space. (Photo courtesy of Onion Flats)

The long-in-the-works plans for local green developer Onion Flats’ mixed-use project in East Falls are moving toward an official city review, with an equity partner and some minor design changes. Meanwhile, the former Delaware Valley High School property next door is for sale.

Ridge Flats, at the site of the former Rivage Ballroom at Ridge Avenue and Calumet Street, would be Onion Flats’ largest undertaking, at 146 units. The company is now partnering with Grasso Holdings and is finalizing financing, Onion Flats’ Tim McDonald said at a meeting with members of East Falls Community Council’s zoning committee Wednesday night.

Just steps away at 4333 Ridge Ave., the empty one-acre site where the controversial and troubled alternative high school operated until a shutdown last year, is listed for sale at $2,295,000. That’s significantly higher than the minimum $133,700 opening bid the city asked for in a recent unsuccessful sheriff sale, as detailed by the City Paper. When no bidders came forward, the property’s ownership reverted back to its mortgage holder, said Al Spivey Jr., aide to Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.

Spivey said at the EFCC zoning meeting that he was working on several potential future plans for the DVHS property, though none were solid enough to talk about yet.

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Green initiatives and variance requests 

For the Onion Flats project, the current progress comes after a year-long delay in finalizing a deal with the city Redevelopment Authority. The Kensington-based architecture, design and building group plans what could be the country’s largest net-zero energy residential development, where energy for nearly all utilities is generated on site and residents have minimal power bills.

Onion Flats has presented and discussed its plans four times now before the EFCC and the community, but there will likely be at least one more local meeting and an official vote before a formal city review. Under the new zoning code, the project now must go through the Civic Design Review, which is required for certain large or potentially impactful developments. In this case, that’s because the Ridge Flats plan includes more than 100,000 gross square feet of floor area and more than 100 new dwelling units. [See the project’s CDR application, including project renderings, here]

Ridge Flats also requires several zoning and use variances, one because of a quirk created by a previously-existing overlay on the East Falls commercial district. The Ridge Flats plan includes only 9,300 square feet of retail space, which would require about 40 parking spaces going by the commercial part alone. But the overall square footage of the project, at more than 173,000, would technically require 695 parking spots, an unworkable number and far more than would have been required under the city’s former “one to one” equation for residential parking.

As the plan stands now, it will create 11 new on-street parking spots, and include 120 on-site spots for residents, along with 62 bike spaces. The number of units has risen from the original 123 to 146, because three-bedroom units were eliminated in favor of more one- and two-bedroom apartments, said Onion Flats’ Howard Steinberg.

The Ridge Flats plan will go before CDR members, which for each application includes a representative of the local registered community organization, at a meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. July 2. [agenda here]

Will DVHS site play a part? 

Not surprisingly, members of the audience at Wednesday’s meeting were curious whether the group behind Ridge Flats are or could be interested in the DVHS space as well. McDonald didn’t rule it out, but said any future project they did in East Falls would be a separate effort from Ridge Flats.

“That site, if we take it on, would be a distinct project,” he said.

The project’s aesthetic is similar to other Onion Flats projects, with varied facade materials including metal mesh, wood and laminate panels in green and orange. The sustainable building aspects of Ridge Flats are its biggest calling card, with planted roof areas, solar panels, sustainable and locally-sourced building materials and an energy monitoring system throughout the complex.

Each unit will track its energy consumption, McDonald said, with the data being used in a planned public art project funded by an amount equal to one percent of the construction cost.

Under the current timetable, the property purchase would close about three months after city approvals are received, with groundbreaking by the end of this year and 12-months of construction.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at

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