The proposed Ridge Flats project, a five-story, 146-unit, mixed-use apartment complex in East Falls, won the endorsement Tuesday of the Civic Design Review Committee, which is charged with evaluating the public realm impacts of large development projects. The project, proposed for the former Rivage site at 4300-4326 Ridge Avenue, will be built to “passive house” standards: a hyper-efficient building standard intended to produce a “net zero” energy impact.
The developers, Onion Flats, are seeking ten zoning variances, for height, parking, and loading, to name a few. They intend to provide 120 off-street parking spaces, and 11 on-street spots. The base zoning for the parcel, CMX-2.5, requires no parking, but under the East Falls neighborhood zoning overlay, 4 parking spots are required for every 1,000 square feet of floor area. Under that overlay, the building would need nearly 700 parking spaces.
Tim McDonald of Onion Flats told the CDR Committee that the project will include 9,300 square feet of retail space, most of which is intended to be frequented by pedestrians in the neighborhood, not destination outlets that people would want to drive to. A “cafe and lookout” are planned for the corner of Kelly Drive and Calumet Street, the southeastern corner of the lot. The building will also have green roofs and a rain garden.
One member of the Committee pointed out that the proposed five-story building would block river views from a nearby building owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. The developer responded that the zoning classification for the lot is such that any by-right building would be likely to block those views as well.
The biggest issue with the Committee seemed to be the project’s lack of off-street loading spaces; four such spaces are required by the zoning code. Committee members said that was likely to cause traffic problems. David Orphanides, an attorney for the developer, said he was working with the Philadelphia Parking Authority to arrange for early-morning delivery times, in order to cut down on the potential traffic impact.
After working on adjustments to the plan with the developer, the local Registered Community Organization, East Falls Community Council, is supporting the project, as is the East Falls Development Corporation. The project will be considered by the City Planning Commission at its meeting later this month.
The Committee also endorsed a project designed by Harman Deutsch Architects and being built by Blackstone Development at 1325-27 N. 15th Street, in Lower North Philadelphia, adjacent to the planned Blue Horizon Hotel. The development is a planned 53-unit residential apartment complex in a commercial mixed-use zoning district; neither the local civic groups, represented by Rev. Lewis Nash and Vivian VanStory, nor the Committee objected to the project’s lack of commercial space.
Another project involving 10 townhouses on the 1900 block of Lombard Street was more controversial. The Center City Residents Association initially opposed the project, but after negotiating with the developer regarding the massing of the building, the group has written a letter of non-opposition to the CDR Committee and the zoning board. But near neighbors also testified at the meeting that the scale of the townhomes would overwhelm the neighborhood. The developer is seeking variances for maximum height and minimum open area; as planned, the project contains none.
Jared Brey writes about development, zoning policy, and city government for PlanPhilly.com. He wasn't interested in being a reporter until halfway through a master's program in journalism at Temple University that he intended to parlay into an academic career. His work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, City Paper, Business Journal, and Metropolis.