Lease of Society Hill’s Acme extended, concluding heated community battle

Earlier this week, Alterra Property Group officially abandoned their plans for a mid-rise residential tower on the site of Society Hill’s 5th Street Acme Market. 

On August 30, Alterra signed an agreement with the Society Hill Civic Association and near neighbors, where the developer promised to abandon their plans if the neighborhood groups will withhold opposition to a CVS replacing the stores across the street from Acme, along with an expansion of the grocery store on 5th Street. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the negotiations began in May, but they were only concluded this week. 

As a result of the agreement with neighborhood groups, Alterra extended the Acme Market’s lease for 10 years. There is an option included for a longer extension of up to 19 years.

“We’ve all agreed to lay down our arms and to not fight over future zoning and what might get built on the site,” said Leo Addimando, a managing partner with Alterra. “In return, we’ve signed a long-term lease extension. We will not be pursuing any vertical development on the site, at least while the Acme lease is in effect.”

This seemingly simple agreement marks the conclusion of a heated battle that consumed Society Hill, one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, for the better part of 2017.

At the beginning of this year Alterra secured permits for a mid-rise residential tower at the Acme Market’s site, which has housed a suburban-style one-story grocery store and surface parking lot since the 1960s. The plans called for the demolition of that existing structure.

The project generated a firestorm of opposition, as neighborhood groups lashed out at the prospect of greater density and fewer shopping options. The Society Hill Civic and various groups of near neighbors hired lawyers and began a “Save Our Society Hill” (SOS) campaign, papering the neighborhood with flashy literature. 

They also compelled Councilman Mark Squilla to carve out an exemption for the neighborhood in the city’s zoning code, blocking the future use of density bonuses for green roofs and fresh food markets.

In May, Alterra’s Leo Addimando announced they would back off of the plan. He said they were willing to settle instead for an expanded grocery store and for a CVS in the row of similarly low-rise shops across the street, which currently contain a liquor store and a dry cleaner.

“I’m personally very happy we could achieve this,” said Rosanne Loesch, president of the Society Hill Civic Association. “It was really driven by the community and required a huge effort. We got the preservation of a full-service supermarket, which was really important to the neighborhood. Preserving the existing scale of the neighborhood was important too.”

In May, Addimando told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the 12,000-square foot supermarket building could be expanded by 2,500 feet, if neighbors agreed. This week they did just that, officially securing the possibility of an expanded Acme and the new CVS site. (The Acme’s lease will allow for the expansion, but there is not yet word when or if that will happen.)

“In the context of the opposition, we had an acceptable path forward where everyone got a little of what they wanted,” said Addimando. “It’s a decent outcome, but it seems like a lost opportunity to improve upon the built environment. We could have done more with these parcels than what we are doing.” 

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