In a sign of renewed interest by developers in Philadelphia's Delaware River waterfront, the city Planning Commission approved a trio of apartment buildings Tuesday that will be within walking distance of a new park at the Race Street Pier.
All three projects have been controversial because their designs deviate markedly from standards in the city's new waterfront master plan and zoning code. Commissioners justified their votes by saying the projects would help jump-start a new neighborhood on the waterfront.
They include two 12-story apartment houses: the Marina View apartment house north of the Ben Franklin Bridge, and one next to Dockside at Piers 34/35. Both were problematic because they lacked ground-floor retail.
The third project is a 16-story tower at Second and Race Streets in Old City. Although not actually on the waterfront, the Old City apartment house was the most hotly debated. Designed by New York's Peter Gluck & Partners for Brown/Hill Development, the 16-story tower is three times the allowable height, rising to 197 feet.
While it would dwarf its immediate neighbors, Commissioner Nancy Trainer argued that the residence - called 205 Race Street - was preferable to a blocky apartment house that conformed to the code. To help it fit among Old City's 19th century buildings, the tower portion will be set back on a low base.
Members of the Old City Civic Association argued that approving the project would set a bad precedent. They have been fighting to keep tall buildings from encroaching on the historic neighborhood. "We find this to be an overbuild," complained Rich Thom, who heads the group's zoning committee.
The project deeply divided the Old City community, and several local activists spoke passionately in favor of 205 Race. Rick Snyderman, a gallery owner, argued that Old City desperately needs more residents and that the tower would serve as an anchor. Commissioner Joseph Syrnick, who cast the only dissenting vote, argued that the need for development was not a good reason to violate the new zoning code. "I'm troubled by the way we're heading," he said.
The Old City project must face review by the Zoning Board of Adjustment on Nov. 7.
Contact Inga Saffron at 215-854-2213, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ingasaffron.