Monday, October 24, 2005

Legal Limbo for Locust Club Condo Project

Have you ever wondered why the east side of Broad Street in Center City is thick with construction cranes, while relatively few new condo buildings are rising in the tony Rittenhouse Square neighborhood? My guess is that it has nothing to do with demand, and everything to do with the per capita population of lawyers.

The latest residential project to run into the brick wall of lawsuits is a 17-unit condo project proposed for the site of the formr Locust Club, on the 1600 block of Locust Street. Judge Matthew J. Carrafiello, who is one of the few people in City Hall who thinks the Zoning Board of Adjustmust ought to follow the law, last week revoked the project's building permit on technical grounds. Judge Carrafiello faulted the Department of Licenses and Inspections for mis-measuring windows and driveway ramps. But his real beef was that the ZBA neglected to post the required legal notices advertising a hearing on the project. Needless to say, it's not the first time.

It's true that the methods are flawed. But as condo projects go, the eight-story apartment house by Agoos-Lovera is one of the most benign in town. Yet it has been stuck in legal limbo for over a year because it happens to be on the same block as Berger & Montague, one of Philadelphia's most successful litigators. They contend that the modestly modern mid-rise will ruin the historic block.

They're not the only ones working to keep the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood from changing. The group that calls itself Save Our Square is awaiting another ruling from Judge Carrafiello on the Robert Stern tower at 18th and Walnut, behind the former Rittenhouse Club. It's due any day. Meanwhile, the Cope Linder tower at 17th and Rittenhouse is also mired in legal wrangling, as are the dueling towers on the former Meridian site at 15th and Chestnut Streets.


Blogger mattinphila said...

Isn't this just another example of why we need a serious Planning Commission? Just because YOU think that the Locust Club plan is benign (and St. Mark's might disagree with you), how do we live with spot zoning and variance approvals? When the ZBA approves variances, it smells like eminent domain in sheep's clothing.

9:18 PM  
Blogger J. Blobbom said...

The 1600 block of Locust is one of the most beautiful in the city. While I don't think it wise to halt growth completely, it seems perverse that a condo developer would ruin a good block while trying to take advantage of that block's beauty. Why not build on an ugly block, so as to improve it?

10:41 AM  
Blogger mhawf said...

Regardless of the merit or lack thereof of this 1600 Block of Locust Condo, I think it is a pity that the previous comment rings true. That the addition of a building automatically sends out the sense that the design will “ruin a good block.” That’s a shame; new buildings automatically have a negative connotation, whereas the opposite should occur. It’s a capitalistic epidemic; it is terrible that architecture and design tends to be reduced to the drawings needed to get a project off the ground. Developers seem to seek out the profit seen at the end, a real estate endeavor, rather then than the merit that the project itself has the potential to possess. Condo buildings are seen as sellable and viable products and the public is often left with the insensitivity of such moves. Architecture and good design should be sought after with the foresight that a sensitive design can enhance the nuances of daily experience and create an evocative sense of place with the individuals that inhabit the building, walk, drive by it, etc. Developers have the power to do so much good for a city. The designs of a majority of the “McCondos” seem to be iconic symbols of status that certain architectural languages of older buildings convey. They are chock full of reproductions of building historic elements that can’t and don’t lend themselves to enhancing the forward movement of design that heightens one’s experience. The Condo seems to be the fashion of today’s profiteers without much research into the need, and the city will be left with the carcasses. It will be interesting to see what the next craze will be. Liberty Place was office spaces, then condos, then . . . ?

11:13 PM  
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