Indoor car dealership/apartments/cafe moves forward with PCPC blessing of asphalt plant sale

Desimone Cadillac got a step closer to building an indoor auto showroom with a ground-floor cafe and 10 apartments on the corner of Delaware and Fairmount avenues this week, when the Philadelphia City Planning Commission endorsed the proposed sale of the former city asphalt plant that sits on the site.

PCPC said yes to Property Bill 130907, which would authorize the city’s commissioner of public property to transfer the former city asphalt plant – the rather run-down looking, 9,000-square-foot, red-brick building on the southwest corner of Delaware and Fairmount – to the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development, authorizing them to sell it to Desimone. The bill, introduced by First District Councilman Mark Squilla in December, is in committee.

“It’s an absolutely gorgeous piece of real estate,” City Planner David Fecteau said with sarcasm in his presentation to commissioners. (It’s also a piece of property that neighbors want cleaned up. See earlier story, here.)

Fecteau noted the former asphalt plant was used by the city’s former department of public works, which became defunct with the adoption of the 1951 city charter. “The site is proposed for sale for $1 million, if you can believe it,” he said. The city Office of Property Assessment lists the market value at about $490,000.

Commissioners didn’t comment on the sale price, and they voted unanimously to allow the property transfer, which Fecteau noted fits in with the city’s goal to put old industrial property back into use.

They did have a few comments on the proposed future use of the project, and on the early rendering Fecteau showed them.

The proposed building is eight stories tall. The first two floors would be taken up by car dealership and cafe, with the 1,300-square-foot cafe taking up the rear portion of the ground floor, Fecteau said. That’s the portion furthest from Delaware Avenue. The third floor would be split between the car dealership and two, two-bedroom apartments – one 800 square feet and one 1,000 square feet.

Floors four through eight would house five one-bedroom apartments and three two-bedroom apartments, ranging from 600 square feet to 1,000 square feet.

A preliminary rendering shows the two lower stories with lots of glass, and a structure that looks like a ramp, also glass-encased, leading from the front of the ground floor to rear of the second floor. The remaining eight stories are more solid looking, with many windows of assorted sizes.

Fecteau told commissioners that while L&I makes the official determination, he doesn’t believe the project meets the criteria that would trigger the Civic Design Review process.

“I recognize we are now considering a bill to convey the property, but you are showing some kind of a building there,” said Vice Chairman Joe Syrnick, who chaired this week’s meeting. “Do we get any crack at this or not?”

Most likely, Fecteau said. “I would imagine they will probably be coming in for some variances. I don’t think it’s going to be by-right.”

“So, what do you think that building is?” Syrnick asked. “Do you think it’s a slaughter house? Or what do you think is going to go in there? Nice residential?”

Syrnick already knew what was proposed, but Fecteau went over the program again.

After some discussion that included the audience, it was determined that the property’s neighbors are a gas station to the north and a former night club to the south.

“When they come out of the night club and look at that, they’ll be shocked,” Commissioner Pat Eiding joked.

Fecteau noted it was tough to comment on design at this point, since it’s so preliminary.

Commissioner Nancy Rogo Trainer said it’s the residential element that makes the project worthwhile – she’s not so interested in the auto showroom component.

There’s no proposed zoning category change for the site, located in Northern Liberties, Fecteau noted. It’s CMX-3, and it falls within two overlay districts, including the Central Delaware Overlay, which prohibits most car dealerships – the kind with big, open-air lots.

The Central Delaware Advisory Committee, a group of representatives from waterfront civic groups and other organizations, fought to keep all kinds of auto dealerships out of the overlay district, which stretches from I-95 to the river, and from Oregon to Allegheny avenues, but they were unsuccessful.

Desimone owner Gene Desimone was not immediately available for comment.

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