Planning Commission says state law extends zoning relief for the 1,500-foot American Commerce Center

The American Commerce Center’s developer still has the zoning relief needed to build the city’s tallest skyscraper, Philadelphia City Planning Commission Executive Director Gary Jastrzab told commissioners Tuesday.

Passed by City Council with the PCPC’s blessing, the zoning bill allowing the ACC to exceed height limits in the 1800 block of Arch Street contained a sunset clause. Under normal circumstances, the ordinance would have expired on Jan. 1 of this year.

But then the state legislature passed SB 1042 last year, which provides for extensions to all permits and board approvals set to expire on or after Jan. 1, 2009. An extension through July 1, 2013, is automatically granted.

When PlanPhilly wrote about this earlier this year, there was some debate about whether the law applied to a city ordinance.

SB 1042 states, in part: In cities of the first class and agencies established by such cities, the term shall include only the issuance of a building permit, a zoning use and registration permit, and any administrative approval, including an approval by a board or commission, that is a condition precedent to issuance of a building permit or zoning use and registration permit to an owner of property.

Jastrzab said Tuesday that the Hill International Real Estate Partners team asked the Planning Commission to verify whether the law applied to their circumstances. City lawyers have determined it does, he said. “After consulting with law department, on basis of state statue, staff is recommending we extend the sunset provision for the American Commerce Center,” Jastrzab told commissioners. The developer was informed of the extension. 

The site for the 1,500-foot tall building, designed by Philadelphia native and world-renowned architect Eugene Kohn, remains a parking lot.

“Is there any status update on the American Commerce building?” asked Commissioner Patrick Eiding.

“Not currently. The developers are actively seeking tenants,” Jastrzab said. “At this point, they continue to do so, but we haven’t heard any further word in terms of other activity regarding the project.”

During a phone interview Wednesday morning, attorney Peter Kelsen, who represents the ACC developers, also said his client was continuing to seek tenants, and that there was no further news.

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