Mid-rise apartment building planned for empty lot just north of Ben Franklin Bridge

Another new development is proposed for the Central Delaware Waterfront – an 11-story apartment building, just north of the Ben Franklin Bridge in Old City.

Previously, the development proposed by Ensemble Real Estate, called Marina View Tower, was going to be a high-rise. It is now set to be a mid-rise, more than 120 feet tall, slightly shorter than the stone pier of the bridge.

While shorter than it once was, the building is higher than the 100-foot height limit called for in the draft of the Central Delaware Zoning Overlay. 

The Central Delaware Master Plan, the principles of which the overlay is designed to protect, has been adopted, and planners hope the overlay ordinance will be introduced in city council this week, in time for the overlay to be adopted before summer recess. If that happens, the overlay will go into effect with the city’s new zoning code in late August.

Ensemble Real Estate has applied under the terms of the current zoning code, and so it needs no variances, said Central Delaware Advocacy Group member Joe Schiavo, who also sits on the Old City Civic Association developments committee, which recently met with the developer.

“So it’s legal, but incompatible with the (Central Delaware) Master Plan?” CDAG Member Rob Kettell, also of Old City, asked at the group’s last meeting.

Schiavo responded that he believes the proposal is “more dense” than what the Master Plan envisions in that area.

“That’s what happens when you have a Master Plan, but you don’t yet have an overlay or remapping,” noted CDAG Chairman Matt Ruben, who provided information about the property he received from Deputy Mayor for Development and Planning Commission Chairman Alan Greenberger.

At least one requirement of The Central Delaware Master Plan is having an impact on the development. The project is going before the planning commission because the master plan requires a plan of development review. The POD review also requires a planner to be present when the developer meets with civic associations, and Schiavo said Community Planner Laura Spina was there. A similar meeting was scheduled with Rivers Edge Civic Association for Monday evening.

Ruben said the proposed building would be a “giant L” along Delaware Avenue and Vine. Parking would be behind the L, and not visible from Delaware Avenue, he said.

The development is in the flood plain, and the builder has proposed a five-foot retaining wall, to help meet a zoning code requirement.

Ruben said Greenberger would prefer a grass berm instead, which would be more pedestrian-friendly.

“Like Society Hill Towers?” asked CDAG member and Pennsport resident Rene Goodwin.

Similar, but on a much smaller scale, said Ruben, who noted that the architecture of the building is not “fully settled yet.”

“It could be many other materials,” Schiavo said of the rise that would lift the building above the flood plane. Old City has told the developer that they are concerned about this and the rest of the experiences of pedestrians walking through the area.

People who live east of I-95, in Rivers Edge, travel along the west edge of the parcel on their way to 2nd Street, Schiavo said. “In doing so, they are actually crossing the ramp access to I-95. This is very unsafe,” he said. The walkers then go beneath the bridge on a service road. Old City is asking the developer to include in the site design a safer way for people to make this trip, Schiavo said.

The developer is listening to concerns, but has not responded, he said.

CDAG decided to send a letter in support of Old City’s requests.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal