Plan for 32 townhouses on Front Street wins planning commission approval

A plan to build townhouses on a now-vacant lot at 412 N. Front St. in Old City received city planning commission approval Tuesday.

Developer David Perlman, attorney Hercules Grigos and architect Jose Hernendez presented the plan of development for the three bedroom, 2.5 bath townhomes because the project is within the Central Delaware Riverfront Overlay district.  It is among the first projects subject to this review.

The plan still calls for some townhouses on Front Street, and others on an “English garden” style greenspace. The homes will have green roofs, and some will have parking garages. The property in question backs up to an I-95 ramp, and a wall shielding residents from that view will be planted with vines.

But some changes have been made since the project was presented to the commissioners as an information-only item in April. Back then, there were two points of ingress and egress to get residents to and from garages and surface parking in the back of the development. But the development team discovered a 40-foot, east-west storm sewer right of way that was reserved, but never added to the city plan.

While the concept for the development stayed the same, the number of  units was reduced from 35 to 32, and one larger access point was created near the right-of-way. This reduces the lot coverage from 48 percent to 52 percent, Hernandez said.

Neither the Old City Civic Association nor city planners liked the gates at the access points in the original plan, and the new single access has no gate, he said.

Commission Chairman Alan Greenberger is also a board member of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which oversaw the creation of the riverfront master plan the overlay is tied to. He praised the development team for a project that “respects the plan” and for being “a bit of a pioneer” in developing on the waterfront.

While OCCA supports the project, the fact that “significant” changes were made to the plan that were not brought to the community for review and feedback is cause for concern, said Richard Thom of the OCCA developments committee.

“We generally embrace this project as a good and worthwhile project,” said Thom. But Old City does not want future developers to be able to check the box that they’ve met with the relevant community, and then make changes to their plans that the community doesn’t know about. This would set a dangerous precedent, he said, particularly since the POD review process is to be a template for civic review under the new zoning code.

Thom said that he believed his OCCA committee would be fine with the changes that had been made, and he did not ask the commission to table or vote against the plan. His concerns about the process remained, though.

Grigos said the development team did tell Old City about the sewer issues, and that the issue was a matter of timing.

Matt Ruben, president of Northern Liberties Neighbors Association and  chairman of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, echoed Thom’s comments. Every development process is fluid, Ruben said, and it is essential “that we get information back to the community.”  Civics and other organizations are aware of time pressures and “can provide feedback in an expedited fashion” when necessary, he said.

Greenberger said the comments were legitimate, but he did not want them to hold up approval for this project.

Perlman apologized for not getting back to the civics, and said the timing didn’t allow for that to happen before the meeting with the commission.

Grigos said the developer may need a zoning variance so the development does not have to include a loading zone. If that is the case, the development team will be back before the civic associations and the planning commission, he said.

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