New housing/retail plan floated for Delaware River waterfront
A new plan for the waterfront Renaissance Plaza – the residential and retail complex Carl Marks Real Estate plans to build at the former World Trade Center site on the Delaware River – calls for shorter towers, more retail, and more public green space than the 430-foot-tall proposal floated last summer.
“It's half the height, and a totally different plan,” said architect Bill Alesker of Alesker & Dundon, before presenting the 1,411-rental apartment design he and project attorney Hercules Grigos said was changed based on feedback from civic organizations and the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. The presentation was made to the Central Delaware Advocacy Group Thursday evening.
Last year, height was the biggest issue for city planners, residents, CDAG and the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation – the quasi-city agency which developed and manages the city's long-range plans for the Central Delaware.
The 2012 version called for four towers, two of which would have risen 426 feet, and two stood at 227 feet.
Under this year's revamp, the tallest tower is 240 feet, and there are five instead of four. The 1,411 units are mostly two-bedrooms with two equal-sized master suites and one-bedroom units.
A swath of public green space would run through the property, which Grigos said the development team believes will draw people from the neighborhoods through the property, and down to the river.
This development is on the west side of Delaware Avenue, not the river side. But Grigos said the developer is willing to pay for a signalized crossing to get people to the river itself. The team is also willing to make improvements between the project and the Spring Garden transit stop.
After concerns about the area's history were raised at CDAG, Grigos said the development team has already been talking about preserving the Belgian block pavers on adjacent streets, and would seek advise on the potential of archaeological finds.
Alesker said approximately 75 percent of the ground floor space of the entire project would be retail space, some of it two-floors tall. Some of the space could accommodate a Trader Joe's-like grocery store, he said.
The project would seek LEED Gold status, and would be built in five phases. The developer is committed to building the first two, and the other phases would follow, depending on demand. The equity is in place for Phase I, said Carl Marks Chief Financial Officer Bob Speer, and the team is working on financing for Phases I and II. Grigos said construction should start in Spring 2014. Building the first phase would take about 16 months, Alesker said.
Grigos and Alesker said that this time, the open space and the parking for phases I and II will be built with the first phase, addressing criticism the team got from Deputy Mayor and Planning Commission Chairman Alan Greenberger last time around.
The project is within the area covered by the newly adopted Central Delaware Overlay, which sets a height limit of 100 feet, but allows developers to earn height bonuses up by providing public amenities. A developer who maxed out the public amenities – which include building a section of waterfront trail, building to LEED environmental standards, making transit improvement and providing public green space – can build up to 244 feet.
But the Renaissance Plaza Associates team can build this project as proposed without meeting any of the bonus requirements described in the overlay. They filed for their building permits just before city council passed the ordinance. This means they are subject to the interim overlay that the new legislation replaced. While the Central Delaware Master Plan calls for height limits of 100 feet, the old overlay does not.
Under the old system, the development team will need to present a Plan of Development to the planning commission for approval. Senior Planner Laura Spina said this was most likely the last Central Delaware POD the commission would review.
During previous old overlay POD reviews, commissioners did consider the master plan's 100-foot height limit, and asked developers who sought to go higher to provide public benefits in exchange. The commission was criticized for approving the POD's of several projects that exceeded the height limit, and the height bonus structure in the new overlay came about from the desire to give both commissioners and developers a non-negotiable check list of ways to earn more height.
Grigos and Alesker said the project was redone with the Waterfront Master Plan in mind, however.
Grigos pointed to the public green space, the LEED building standards, a green roof, the retail and the desire to improve the path between the project and public transit. He said these might not exactly fit some of the requirements – he didn't know, for example, if improving the way to a transit stop would count as a transit improvement. And he also noted that the full raft of bonuses are much easier fulfilled by developers on the river side of the street.
While some concerns still remained about the size and density of the development, members of the advocacy group, who represent a cadre of waterfront neighborhoods and other organizations, agreed the new plan is a much better fit with the city's long-range goal for the waterfront, the Central Delaware Master Plan, which CDAG exists to defend.
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