Proposal to turn former AAA building into apartments, retail gets warm reception at planning commisison

The former AAA building at 2040 Market Street would become a 275-apartment complex with retail on the ground level under a proposal by PMC Property Group.

Architect Stephen Varenhorst gave an information-only presentation to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission Tuesday.  Commissioners had suggestions, but liked what they saw.

Under PMC’s vision for the building, the current 120,000 square foot space would increase to 300,000 feet. PMC hopes to create eight stories above the existing three story building and to build two additional 12-story towers.

“We are trying to retain what little dynamism the building has along Market Street with two big bay windows,” Varenhorst said. This would improve retail there, he said.  That part of the building currently has a cantilevered area meant for plants, but nothing has ever really grown, he said. The restaurateurs PMC has talked to would like the terrace to remain as a spot for outdoor dining.

While the proposed building would be significantly shorter than others in the neighborhood, the proposed density is greater than what its C4 zoning allows. The proposal calls for a floor-aspect ratio (commonly called FAR) of 7.29. “We’re allowed 5.0,” Varenhorst said. “That’s the biggest issue we have, and we’re asking your support” on relief.

Varenhorst said that under the proposed zoning code, he has no doubt the project could meet FAR requirements by taking advantage of the increased density that is allowed in exchange for the builder providing certain public amenities. “Public art, mixed housing, green building, underground parking all get us to the right number,” he said. 

But under the existing code, a variance would be needed. “It’s very high density, but it’s very low scale,” he said.

The project presented still has a few details to be worked out.  Financing is not one of them, said PMC Executive Vice President Jonathan Stavin in response to a question from Alan Greenberger, planning chairman and deputy mayor for planning and development. Stavin said financing is in place, and he hoped to be back before the commission with an official presentation quickly and “have a shovel in the ground in mid-September with 18 to 20 months until completion.” The project would be built in one fell swoop, without phasing.

Commissioner Patrick Eiding did not like the look of the structure covering the parking ramps in the rendering. “It looks like a garage,” he said, and such things are not allowed on Market Street.

“I definitely do not want it to look like a garage, and I’ll make it worthy of Market Street,” Varenhorst said.

PMC Property Group has apartment buildings all over town, and most have one bedroom, Stavin said. But the Center City Residents Association suggested including apartments with two or more bedrooms to accommodate families. “Stephen has included 32 large units,” he said. “I can assure you if it’s successful, you will see more of this from us in the future,” he said.

Center City Residents Association Zoning Committee co-chair Tim Kerner told the PCPC the CCRA has a suggestion on how PMC can get the additional density it needs under the current zoning code. The current code allows density bonuses in exchange for public open space, Kerner said. The project calls for a small plaza on Ludlow Street that now has two curb cuts. Eliminating one would make room for a pocket park that could be “a really beautiful space,” he said.

Commissioners liked the idea. So does the developer, who said the four parking spaces that would be lost do not have to be in that spot.  Varenhorst said having the little park would “make this a better spot,” and he just hasn’t had time to show it in the drawings yet. It will be there when the project comes back before the commission, he said.

Commissioner Nilda Ruiz praised the developer for putting windows into what is now a big, blank wall and making the facade much friendlier to the street.  Greenberger said he appreciated the developer thinking about how to take a strange building and “bring it back to life.”

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