One of Philadelphia's biggest landlords is part of a plan to build up to 10 stories of housing along what could be the city's last remaining cobblestone lane, but officials say the project should be scrapped.
The proposal for the brick and limestone apartment block involving PMC Property Group would replace a parking lot at the corner of Arch Street and the narrow lane known as Little Boys Court, near Second Street in Old City, according to plans filed with the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
The commission's architecture committee will consider the $28.5 million development at 218 Arch St. during a June 23 hearing. The listed property owner, 218 Arch Street Associates, shares an address with rental giant PMC, which is also credited on project renderings.
"The proposed development shall enhance and activate the streetscape of Arch Street and Little Boys Court," Philadelphia architect Stephen Varenhorst wrote in his submission for the owner.
Architecture committee staffers said the project, on the same block as the Betsy Ross House, is a bad fit for historic Old City. "The proposed building is incompatible with the historic district in height, massing, and scale," the staffers said in their report to the committee.
They also said that the developers didn't share enough information about how it would restore Little Boys Court, part of which "may be the only original surviving cobblestone street in the city."
Varenhorst did not respond to multiple phone messages. Calls to PMC president Ron Caplan were not answered.
PMC, also known as Philadelphia Management, owns more than 40 apartment buildings in the city, many in structures converted to residential use, according to its website. Its holdings outside the city span from Florida to Massachusetts.
The proposed building would have ground-floor shops fronting Arch, along with an entrance to two stories of underground parking, according to the plans.
Five or six stories of apartments would rise over Arch, building to nine or 10 stories in stages as the structure recedes from the street. The main entrance to the building's 121 one- and two-bedroom apartments would be through a courtyard leading to Little Boys Court, which plans say would be restored.
The architecture committee makes nonbinding recommendations to the full commission, which will hold a vote on the project at a later meeting. Property owners can appeal decisions by the commission to the Department of Licenses and Inspections Review Board.
In this case, there is some doubt as to whether the proximity to Little Boys Court gives the commission jurisdiction over the project, according to the committee staff, so the commission will have to decide on that, too.
A proposalat the site for a 23-story glass and steel tower that came before the commission in 2006 was withdrawn before the jurisdictional issue could be decided.
If completed, the proposed project would represent a shift to the east for PMC, which has primarily focused on more western parts of the city with its new construction projects.It could help reinvigorate Old City, which has lost favor among affluent young urban dwellers who increasingly flock to areas like Rittenhouse Square and Northern Liberties, said Allan Domb, president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors and an at-large candidate for City Council.
"I think it's good that they're investing in Old City," he said. "Old City needs a rebirth, it needs to refind itself, and I think Philly Management building something there will bring more people to that area."