Earlier this year, City Council passed an ordinance changing the zoning for a large vacant property at 1300 Fairmount Ave., behind the Divine Lorraine Hotel, which is being resurrected on North Broad Street. The bill was meant to allow a 486-unit apartment building and supermarket complex from RAL, a New York development company, to be built on the site.
On Tuesday, the project received generally positive remarks from the Civic Design Review Committee. It’s planned to be built in phases, with the first phase consisting of the supermarket, fronting on Ridge Avenue, and a 19-story apartment tower. Later phases include a shorter apartment building and a number of smaller town homes.
Members of some local community groups, West Poplar CDC and the 14th Ward Democratic Executive Committee, represented on the CDR Committee Tuesday asked for assurances that all phases of the project would be built. The Committee said it couldn’t extract promises of that nature, charged as it is with reviewing the public-realm impacts of major development projects. The developers, Robert Levine and his son, Spencer, said that they fully intend to build the whole project but they don’t want to make all the apartments available at once.
Other concerns were narrower. The developers are planning a landscaped plaza along the north side of the project, and Committee members had questions about the elevation of that plaza. Others wanted to emphasize that street lighting would be an important safety feature along the long blocks of Ridge and Fairmount. Some worried that having only one loading zone could cause traffic problems around the site.
Despite receiving a legislative rezoning, the developers will need to go to the zoning board later this month. They need to get a special exception for parking facilities; underground parking is permitted on the site. A special exception is a much lower hurdle to jump than a variance, which is what most developers need when they visit the zoning board. A variance is needed when a developer wants to do something specifically prohibited in the zoning code. Special exceptions are for uses that are permitted as long as they don’t have any extraordinarily harmful impact on the neighborhood.
A hearing is scheduled for September 30.
Watch full hearing below.