Philadelphia University rezoning, Ridge Flats development approved by Planning Commission

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) unanimously approved a zoning change supporting Philadelphia University’s master plan for expansion at its meeting on Tuesday.

The Civic Design Review committee narrowly approved the changes last month, which would create an Institutional (Special Purpose) district in an area zoned mostly for residential (RSD-3 and RM-2), despite concerns from some committee members about environmental impacts on the area bordering the Wissahickon, the balance of open space versus buildings, and the design of future buildings.

Two members of the public–a neighbor of the university and an environmental scientist from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster–attended Tuesday’s meeting to raise concerns about a campus expansion in this location and the potential for creating a heat island within the Wissahickon watershed.

Commission staff member Paula Brumbelow pointed out that environmental regulations pertaining to watersheds would still apply within the Institutional district, and there would be future opportunities to address these issues since each new campus building will have to apply for zoning approval and go through the Civic Design Review process.

That satisfied the Commission members, who voted unanimously to support the rezoning. The Planning Commission’s approval is only the fourth step in a twelve-step process for creating a master plan, so the proposal will receive additional scrutiny in other venues, including City Council.

Another large East Falls development, the 206-unit Ridge Flats building proposed by Grasso Holdings for Kelly Drive near the Falls Bridge, also received approval from the Commission.

The mixed-use project received a favorable recommendation by the Civic Design Review committee in June, despite some concerns that its facade was too “monotonous” along Kelly Drive, as Commissioner Nancy Rogo-Trainer put it. The project presented to the Commission was unchanged since CDR, but was recommended by Commission staff.

Rogo-Trainer cast the lone ‘no’ vote against approval. It now heads to the Zoning Board of Adjustment on August 10th.

A third project proposal reviewed by the Commission, for 43 townhomes at 600-24 N. 5th Street in Northern Liberties, was unanimously approved. The homes would come with 53 parking spaces and an internal drive aisle. The Civic Design Review committee had recommended reducing the development’s density to make circulation easier.

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