PlanPhilly

Three-story townhouse development planned for Front Street in Old City

    • Front and Willow Streets
      Front and Willow Streets
    • Long-ago proposed World Trade Center concept near Front and Willow
      Long-ago proposed World Trade Center concept near Front and Willow
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Developer David Perlman told city planners Tuesday that he hopes to build a 38-unit townhouse development with a green roof, outdoor space for each unit, and a mix of surface-lot and garage parking at 412 N. Front Street in Old City.

Units would have 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths and range in size from 1,700 to 1,900 square feet. Most would be three stories tall, with the exception of two “carriage house” developments that would not have ground level floors, to allow access to parking in the interior of the project.

The property, at the corner of Front and Willow Streets, backs up against an I-95 ramp – and next to the ramp is where the parking will go, said project architect Jose Hernandez. The site is also near the long-proposed World Trade Center development.

Hernandez said the town houses would be faced with stone, brick and two colors of fiber cement. Landscaped areas will include an interior courtyard and private green space for each unit, and also street trees and planters. Units will have views of the Delaware River and Ben Franklin Bridge, he said.

The parcel is zoned C-4 commercial, so if any zoning variances are needed, they will be minor, said attorney Hercules Grigos. One potential example he gave: If the zoning examiner considers the development to be 38 adjacent but independent buildings, there would be a commercial component required. None is planned.

“What's shocking is that you are sitting on a C-4 property, and behaving rationally instead of exuberantly,” said commission chairman and deputy mayor for economic development Alan Greenberger, referring to current state of the real estate market and the relative low-density of the proposal, compared to the maximums allowed in C-4.  “I don't know what to say, except thank you.”

The project needs special planning commission review regardless of any potential zoning issues, because the property is located within the Central Delaware Waterfront Overlay district, a special zoning district running from I-95 to the river, and from Allegheny to Oregon avenues. The overlay was designed to stop any projects that would prevent the city from realizing its goals for revitalizing the Central Delaware Waterfront.

Commissioner Nancy Rogo-Trainer asked about roof-top mechanical units. “I hope the rooftop units are not visible from the street,” she said.

They might be visible from I-95, Perlman said, but they will be set back enough not to impinge on views from city streets.

Grigos said the development team had recently met with Old City Civic Association, and that OCCA is generally supportive of the proposal.

Old City zoning co-chair Joe Schiavo had been at the Tuesday PCPC meeting, which ran extra-long, but he had to leave before the commission considered this item. Grigos said Old City's one concern was the gates that had been proposed for the ingress and egress beneath the carriage house units. “They prefer no gates, and we see no problem with that,” he said.

Reached by email later in the day, Schiavo said the meeting with the developer was an informal one, and no vote has been taken, so OCCA has no official position on the project at this time. Schiavo confirmed the concern about the gates, however. "I just think that something that comes off as a 'gated community'  would be inappropriate for the Old City area, including River's Edge," Schiavo said in the email.

Grigos said First District Councilman Mark Squilla supports the project.

Greenberger posed a hypothetical question to the development team – hypothetical, but something the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which is overseeing the plan to revitalize the Central Delaware, is very interested in. Greenberger is a DRWC board member.  While the project doesn't stretch the whole way to Callowhill Street, Callowhill isn't far. “How would you all feel if Callowhill became two-way” between 2nd and Delaware Avenue. “Would that be helpful?”

Right now, drivers can travel west, from the riverfront toward Center City, on Callowhill, but cannot drive east. “It should be two-ways, without a doubt,” Perlman said. 

In response to a question from Commissioner Patrick Eiding, team members said should the World Trade Center come to fruition, that extra life nearby would only help enliven the street and benefit their development.

Tuesday's session was informational, but Perlman and his team intend to come back next month for a PCPC vote on Central Delaware Waterfront Plan of Development approval.

Some old city residents have a question about the site's past. They have just learned that it was once a railroad property, and that the earth had been largely undisturbed. Might there not be interesting historical discoveries to be made with archaeology at the site, asked Old City Civic Board Member Richard Strange. The developer and the planning commissioners were not familiar with the site's past. Greenberger said there was nothing about the site that would legally require archaeological work, but he suggested the gentleman write up what he knew and get it to the city historical commission for their input. 


Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com

About the author

Kellie Patrick Gates, Waterfront, casinos, planning reporter

Kellie Patrick Gates writes about planning, neighborhood development and the Central Delaware Waterfront. A journalist for more than two decades, she  worked for daily newspapers in Central Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and South Florida before coming to Philadelphia in 2003 to write for the Inquirer. Her work has appeared on PlanPhilly since 2007, and she also writes Love, the Inquirer's weekly wedding column. A native of Elk County, Pa., Kellie lives with her husband, Gary, and their dog and two cats.

Follow her on Twitter @KelliePGates



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