Plan for four residential towers and retail at Columbus and Callowhill gets PCPC approval

Waterfront Renaissance Associates’ plan to build a four-tower, residential mixed-use development at Callowhill Street and Columbus Boulevard won Planning Commission approval Tuesday.

WRA, an affiliate of Carl Marks Real Estate, hopes to start construction of the first, 292-foot tower in about a year. Attorney Hercules Grigos told the PCPC the project will be built in four phases, with each tower basically comprising one stage.

Based on Tuesday’s presentation and earlier ones, the project will contain about 1,350 rental apartments, two gyms that the public will be allowed to join, restaurants and retail space, perhaps including a grocery store. It will seek LEED Gold certification – a measurement of environmental friendliness.

Renaissance Plaza will contain about an acre of public green space that Grigos said could be used for farmers markets or other events. A public walk will run from Front Street through the development and the green space, and Grigos said with PennDOT and city approval, the developer will pay for a signalized crossing so people can more easily walk from Front Street across Columbus Boulevard to the waterfront. WRA also intends to make improvements to Front Street from the project to Spring Garden and the El stop.

“We think this is a game-changing project for the waterfront, which has been underdeveloped,” Grigos said.

Resident Robert Daniele, who lives at the corner of Front and Callowhill, told commissioners during public comment that he’s been talking to neighbors at the dog park and “everyone seems to be in full support of this project.”

Daniele said he’s looking forward to the bars and restaurants and retail. “When people come to visit me, I find myself heading west” into the city, rather than to the waterfront, he said. “It’s great to see this development, which will hopefully lead to a safer, more viable area.”

The first phase of development will now include all streetscaping, landscaping, the public green space and lighting. That inclusion came at the request of community organizations and the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which manages city-owned waterfront land and oversees implementation of the city’s vision for the entire Central Delaware.

Other significant changes have also been made since the project last came before the PCPC in August 2012. At the request of DRWC, city planning, and civic groups, including the now-defunct Old City Civic, those modifications include:

The height of the four towers shrunk. The two tallest, on each end, are now just under 300 feet and the two in the middle are just under 200 feet. The two tallest towers were once 426 feet. There was an interim phase, which never came before the commission, which called for five shorter buildings, the tallest at 240 feet. The DRWC’s Design Review Committee asked the developer to do something about that fifth building, which was right up on Delaware Avenue. All five were about the same height, and DRWC didn’t like that big block of massing, either, said DRWC Planner/Project Manager Karen Thompson.

The number of units shrunk by about 100 units.

There is an enclosed parking garage rather than a surface lot in the first phase.

There is more variety in building material and color.

Waterfront Renaissance Associates’ project is the last Plan of Development the PCPC will consider under the old Central Delaware Overlay. The new overlay does not call for POD reviews. (Commission Chairman and Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger noted that sometimes, changes happen as projects are built, and if a substantial change occurs to this project, it would have to come back to the commission.)

City Planner Martine Decamp said the streets department has looked over the project’s traffic study and agrees it will not have a significant impact on local traffic. The PCPC’s urban design planners like the glass and metal appearance of the building, which is now more modern-looking than it was, she said. The water department has granted storm water plan approval, and staff recommended the commission approve the POD.

Thompson and Joe Schiavo, vice-chairman of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group and a former Old City Civic board member, praised the developer for being responsive to the requests for changes it heard, and for following the criteria for development in the new Central Delaware Overlay, even though the project pre-dates it, and so did not have to.

Thompson noted that DRWC had some concerns about the viability of so much retail – about 70,000 square feet – but that changes have been made to make it more visible. DRWC has also made signage suggestions to draw people in, she said, and is suggesting a wider sidewalk with cafe seating. DRWC has also suggested that WRA stress future residents’ proximity to the Spring Garden el stop and other environmentally friendly features.

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