Plan for an 80-unit, transit-oriented development at 521-31 S. Broad gets planning commission approval

Developer Carl Dranoff’s plan of development for Southstar Lofts – an 80-unit residential building with ground-floor retail at 521-31 South Broad Street – won planning commission approval this week.

Commissioners also recommended that city council adopt the related Streets Bill 120436, which allows for sidewalk encroachments on Broad, South and Rodman streets. The bill was introduced by First District Councilman Mark Squilla on May 17.

The largest of the encroachments is a marquee that would hang over the Broad Street subway entrance. It’s one of the old-school entrances, which leaves the stairway open to the elements, said architect Jerry Roller of JKR Partners, representing Dranoff. “It was a request from SEPTA that we provide some cover,” he said.

Project attorney Peter Kelsen said the development is definitely transit-oriented, and covering the subway with a combination of a marquee and public art will benefit both residents and anyone using that subway stop. (The Commission and City Council were convinced enough that residents would use transit that legislation allowing the property to provide just 3 parking spaces for every 10 units was passed last year. The building is to have parking for 30 cars and 25 bicycles.)

In the past, local residents had issues with some aspects of the original project design. In response, the developer changed the height and massing of the building and made other adjustments. This week, attorney Stanley Krackower, representing a group of near neighbors on Rodman Street, said that the neighbors, Kelsen and himself had been working on a memorandum of understanding, and “we’re about 95 percent of the way there.”  He and Kelsen both estimated within a week or two, the MOU would be executed, and could be given to the commission.

The POD review was required because former city councilman Frank DiCicco made one part of the ordinance granting a zoning change that gave both the Broad Street and Rodman Street portions of the property a C4 designation.

When Roller described the art work that may be incorporated into the marquee on the Broad Street side, he talked about color and light. Krackower wanted to know more, since he said he had never heard that before. Roller said it was not lighting, per se, but “something that will have color and light on the facade of the building, that will not go anywhere, in keeping with the Avenue of the Arts.”

That satisfied Krackower.

Planning Commissioners offered praise for both the project itself and the work the developer and the community did together toward an agreement. The changes made the project better not only for the residents, but for the city, said Chairman Alan Greenberger.

Greenberger did offer one design criticism.

“I think the sign that says ‘Southstar’ cheapens the building,” he said of the large sign, which runs vertically down one side of the building, and has a blue star for the ‘a’.  The design is good without it, and the addition looks ‘too commercial,’ he said. Several other commissioners nodded their agreement.

Roller said he would take the message back to his client.

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