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Planning gives support to Toll Brothers’ South Street condo/townhouse development

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission Tuesday endorsed zoning changes that Toll Brothers needs to build 59 condos and 68 town homes at 2400 South Street.

Toll Brothers has a ZBA hearing Wednesday, and commissioners unanimously voted to recommend the ZBA grant the zoning relief Toll Brothers needs for this project.  Commissioners praised the developer for making big changes to its plan since last month, when the project came before Commissioners for information only.

The changes, which came in response to criticism both from commissioners and community members, include 2,300 square feet of commercial space at the corner of 24th and Bainbridge streets and a row of homes along the Bainbridge whose fronts now face the street instead of the interior of the development.

The plan revisions didn’t change the needed zoning relief, said planner Larissa Klevin. The entire property is zoned limited industrial, but Toll Brothers wants to build residences. The base zoning allows a single main structure, while Toll wants to build 34. Toll also wants to build about eight feet taller than the 60-foot height restriction, and wants some of its 131 parking spaces to be slightly shorter than what the base code requires. The spaces would still be plenty long enough for residential use, Klevin said.

“I think it’s greatly improved since the last time we saw it,” Commissioner Nancy Rogo-Trainer said. She would have liked fewer curb cuts to make the pedestrian experience better, but said her remaining concerns were small compared to those she had last month.

Planning Commissioners hear testimony on the revised plan and ask questions. While South Street West Business Association still opposes the project, their testimony – and that of other groups that no longer oppose the project – was much more vehement last month. Watch that testimony here.

South of South Neighborhood Association’s Programs Coordinator Andrew Dalzell said his community thinks so, too. “In November, SOSNA was in strong opposition for a variety of reasons, including a lack of eyes on the street on South 24th and on Bainbridge Street and a lack of commercial space,”  he said. “Since last month, as you have seen, the applicant has made significant alterations. They literally went line-by-line through our letter, and we commend them for doing so.”  The changes have been vetted by SOSNA’s board, committees and the public as much as possible, Dalzell said. “It is our position now not to oppose this project.”

That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, Dalzell said.  SOSNA appreciates the inclusion of commercial space, but wants restrictions on the kind of commercial activity to align with uses allowed in C2 commercial – a zoning designation on nearby properties.  He also said the corner of 24th and South also “deserves to have a small commercial space.”

The lack of commercial space at 24th and South Street means the South Street West Business Association can’t support the project, said secretary Marcus Iannozzi, even though SSWBA agrees the changes made have significantly improved the project.  “We feel it is in the best interest of the South Street corridor not to have continued erosion of commercial spaces on that corridor,” he said.

Echoing Dalzell’s concerns about the type of commercial use the project will include, Iannozzi noted the last version of the plan SSWBA saw showed the ground-floor space as “unprogrammed space.”

Toll Brothers attorney Brett Feldman said his client will be asking the ZBA at tomorrow’s hearing to approve the space for C2 uses.

In other action:

Support given for large residential/retail project in Chestnut Hill

Commissioners recommended City Council approve Zoning Bills 110762 and 110763 – both introduced by outgoing District 8 Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, which make way for a large, mixed-use development  at 8200 Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill, the site of a defunct car dealership. Planner Paula Brumbelow told commissioners that since they last discussed the proposal, business and community groups have voted in favor of the agreement. Two near neighbors testified that the plan, consisting of condominiums, homes, a grocery store and other commercial space, was out-of-scale with the rest of the neighborhood, and threatened the charm of Chestnut Hill.

Whoopsie! City buys property in settlement, neglects to get the title

Planner Martine Decamp told commissioners the story of 4810 North 7th Street – a home damaged when the city demolished nearby properties. As the result of a court settlement, the city compensated the owner for the home, but  never got the title. The property owner “could have resold the property,” Decamp told commissioners. Instead, the owner contacted the city to report he or she was still receiving tax bills. “L&I is looking into whether it should be demolished,” Decamp said. Commissioners said city council should pass Property Bill 110831, authorizing the city to accept the title.

Grays Ferry Crescent closer to becoming city property

Commissioners also voted in support of Property Bill 110839, authorizing the acquisition of an 11.5 acre  portion of the east bank of the Schuylkill River, from south of Wharton Strreet to the 34th Street Bridge, known as the Grays Ferry Crescent.  The land will become part of Fairmount Park and the Schuylkill River Trail. Commissioner Joe Syrnick, who is president and CEO of the Schuylkill River Deveopment Corporation, recused himself from the vote. The bill seems mostly a technicality, since much of the work has already been done.

“If we don’t approve it, does everything have to go back to the way it was?” joked Commissioner Patrick Eiding.

“Dismantling it would create more jobs,” said Chairman Alan Greenberger, who is deputy mayor of planning and economic development.

“That’s what I was thinking!” said Eiding – who is president of the Philadelphia chapter of the AFL-CIO.

The vote to support the bill was unanimous.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com

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