Philadelphia's zoning board has rejected a challenge to city approvals for a proposal by Horsham-based homebuilder Toll Bros. to demolish five properties on Jewelers Row to make way for a 16-story condo tower.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously Wednesday to deny appeals of the project's earlier zoning approvals by the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections.
The appeals were filed by a group including preservationists and merchants from the Sansom Street shopping district. The group argued that L&I should revoke zoning permits for the project because relevant notices had not been posted by developer Toll Bros. to all the properties it is seeking to clear.
The group also claimed that Toll failed to identify the buildings' owners in its zoning-permit paperwork, as required.
The two-hour meeting grew tense at one point, when Toll Bros. attorney Carl Primavera lashed out at a Jewelers Row resident testifying in opposition to the proposal, saying the man had violated hearing protocol by addressing him directly.
"You might be unfamiliar with our culture and legal process," Primavera told Jimmy Low, 46, who is Asian American, eliciting audible gasps from the audience.
"We don't want to go where this thing is about to go," board member Anthony Gallagher interjected, ending the exchange.
On hearing the board's decision, Hal Schirmer, the attorney who led the merchants and preservationists' appeals effort, said, "The issue really is, what good is a law that isn't enforced."
Primavera declined to comment on the zoning board's decision and referred questions to a spokesman for Toll's City Living Division, Timothy Spreitzer.
Reached Wednesday after the board's meeting, Spreitzer said, "Toll Bros. City Living is appreciative of the City of Philadelphia Law Department's support during today's hearing, and we are pleased with the outcome. We remain committed to delivering a residential building that is respectful of the history of Jewelers Row while rejuvenating it for the future."
The appeals were filed in response to zoning permits issued by L&I that allowed demolition of the structures and consolidation of the underlying lots into one parcel. The permits were awarded conditionally, subject to Toll's appearance before the city's Civic Design Review board.
Andrew Ross, who represented the city, said he was "pleased" that the board upheld L&I's decisions.
Additional demolition permits following further inspections are necessary before the properties can be cleared. Those have not yet been issued.
Opponents of the proposed 80-unit tower also have sought to derail the proposal by nominating three of the properties for designation as historic assets.
The Philadelphia Historical Commission's Committee on Historic Designation will review nominations for 704 Sansom St. and 706-08 Sansom St. on Oct. 21, according to nominating documents on its website.