Public path to river and other changes convince PCPC to approve plan for residential tower at Piers 34 and 35

A plan of development for a 209-unit residential development at Piers 34 and 35 was approved by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission Tuesday, after the developer amended the plan with an expanded public walkway to the riverfront and larger space for ground-level retail.

Ensemble Real Estate’s proposal, located at 735 South Columbus Blvd., is 180-feet tall, or 80 feet taller than the 100-foot limit the Master Plan for the Central Delaware suggests as a standard. The PCPC has the discretion to approve taller structures, but when this project was before them last month, it tabled action. Commissioners said they really liked the project and wanted to approve it,  but needed something more for the public in exchange for the extra height.

Another change: Ensemble is also committing to using either metal panels or cast stone on a greater portion of the building facade, said architect David Ertz of Cope Linder.

Both commissioners and representatives of other organizations that spoke at the last meeting seemed pleased with the changes.

In response to questions from Richard Wolk, a member of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, Ertz said the walkway will be the length of the building – about 240 feet. For the most part, Ertz said, the walkway is now 11 feet, six inches wide, except where building columns narrow it to eight feet, six inches.

At the river end of the walkway, Ertz said the space opens up and “cantilevers out over the water. It is open to the sky and has water views on three sides.”  Ertz told the commission it would afford visitors views up and down the Delaware River.

While this hasn’t been designed yet, Ertz said he anticipated there would be some sort of furniture for the public – perhaps benches – and seasonal plantings.

“That certainly is an improvement,” Wolk said.

Queen Village Neighborhood Association President Jeff Hornstein said he really liked the expanded walkway as well, and that his organization “continues to feel pretty good,” about the project.

Last time around, Ensemble’s Louis Cicalese told commissioners that a lower-level space designated as a resident’s gym could be converted to retail in the future, but there just isn’t the demand for a lot of retail on Delaware Avenue right now.

Commissioners asked that the team market the space, and see what could happen. That space is now marked retail/fitness, Ertz said. “My client has agreed to market it as retail,” Ertz said.

At some point early in construction, a decision will have to be made, Ertz said, as a commercial space would have some different needs.

Not everyone who spoke was happy. The new building would be built near the existing Dockside condos, and residents Doug and Francine Cregar told the commission they never knew of the project until recent media coverage, and found that very distressing.  Francine Cregar said she didn’t know yet whether or not she wanted the building there, but she felt “snubbed.” Hornstein apologized that QNA didn’t tell residents, saying he assumed they had been alerted. He urged the developer representatives to reach out to near neighbors directly.

Cregar said her community doesn’t need more residents until it has more amenities, like restaurants and a grocery store. Wolk brought her comments up to the developer as evidence that ground-floor retail can succeed.

Greenberger intervened, saying the developer had made a commitment to market the space for retail, and that was all that could be expected – either the demand will be there, or it won’t.

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