The Philadelphia City Planning Commission met for more than four hours Tuesday afternoon to review plans for new waterfront developments, weigh in on rezoning bills, and recommend conveyance of various properties to the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development. The regularly scheduled meeting was followed by a hearing on the Commission’s proposed new regulations for implementing the zoning code that takes effect this August.
After an update from executive director Gary Jastrzab and an information-only presentation of the Philadelphia Complete Streets Design Handbook, the Commission unanimously adopted a new Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. The plan is intended to improve safety and connectivity for cyclists and walkers in Philadelphia. It calls for hundreds of additional miles of bike and shared lanes on Philadelphia streets.
The Commission then considered whether to recommend zoning relief for a planned LGBT senior housing project in Center City which is scheduled for an upcoming ZBA hearing. The plan for William Way Senior Housing includes a building reaching six stories on 13th street near Spruce; its C-1 zoning currently allows a maximum of three stories. Commission members inquired about the architect’s choice of façade materials and other design choices, and in the end, voted unanimously to recommend the height variance, saying the height increase is consistent with the building’s context. The developers hope to begin construction on the project, which would be among the first of its kind in the country, this fall.
The Commission was then briefed on three proposed waterfront developments, designed by three different architects, all represented by attorney Carl Primavera of Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg.
The first item was a Plan of Development review for the proposed Marina View Towers at 230-250 N. Columbus Boulevard, close to the Ben Franklin Bridge. In a meeting last month, the Commission told the architects it wanted to see an improved design reflecting which would allow more active uses at the ground level, and employ better building materials. The Commission had mixed feelings about the developer’s updated plans.
The 180-unit, 11-story apartment building plan includes a garage with 180 parking spots, and some Commissioners said they felt the parking could be reduced in favor of more transparency and activity on the ground level. Others wondered whether the entrance to the building, which is planned for Vine Street, wouldn’t be better placed elsewhere.
In a letter to the Planning Commission, the Central Delaware Advocacy Group expressed its support of mixed-use development on the waterfront, but enumerated a number of concerns about the site plan. CDAG said the plan fails to maximize the commercial potential of the site, provides an unnecessary amount of parking, and employs an aesthetic design that “is singularly unimaginative in its general massing scheme.”
“The Master Plan is now official Planning Commission, and City, policy,” wrote CDAG chair Matt Ruben, in the letter. “If the Master Plan is to become a reality, it must become the standard against which each development proposal along the Central Delaware is measured.”
In deliberating whether to approve the Plan of Development, the Commission attempted to balance a desire to see new development on the waterfront with a desire to see good development—consistent with the recently adopted Master Plan—on the waterfront. Most said there were changes they would like to see in the design that would make the parcel both more attractive and more harmonious with the goals of the Master Plan. Some worried about what precedent they would set in approving the first Plan of Development since adoption of the Master Plan. But few were willing to risk delaying or killing the development because of design concerns.
“We can’t have an active waterfront without people,” said Commissioner Brian Abernathy.
The Commission ultimately voted to approve the plan, with one holdout, vice-chairman Joe Syrnick, voting in opposition.
The Commission also heard two information-only presentations on plans for waterfront projects from the Marina View developer, Ensemble Real Estate. The plans are for a 200-unit residential development at 933 North Penn Street, near Sugarhouse Casino, and 735 South Columbus Blvd., near Catharine Street.
The Commission also voted unanimously to approve a “corrective re-zoning” bill affecting the Conestoga Recreation Center at 52nd and Media streets. The bill changes the zoning designation of parcel already used for recreation from mixed R9, C2, and G2, to REC recreational.
The Commission also unanimously approved a Streets bill authorizing bay window encroachments on a development planned for a parcel at the corner of 24th and Bainbridge streets and Grays Ferry Avenue.