Thursday, August 03, 2006

Another 40-Story Tower for Spring Garden?

A few years ago, Philadelphia was hit with a rash of middle-of-the-night building demolitions. Now the vogue seems to be for middle-of-the-night building permits.

Just as neighbors in the Spring Garden section were battling an over-the-counter permit for the 47-story Barnes Tower on the site of the Best Western motel, another developer was quietly making plans to get a similar stealth permit for a 40-story tower on a townhouse-sized site at the southeast corner of 19th and Spring Garden Streets. On July 18, developer/owner Joe Federman received a green light from L&I to demolish a charming, two-story, art deco office building at 1822 Spring Garden, and replace it with a condo tower. Federman now has carte blanche to construct an 108-unit high-rise with a pool, 84-car underground, ground -floor retail, and a "winter garden." Since the project conforms to the existing zoning, no discussions with neighbors and no zoning variance were required. There's already an architectural design, by James Rappaport of Daroff Design, but no neighbors have seen it.

Needless to say, Pat Freeland and the Spring Garden CDC are furious. After the Barnes Tower was sprung on the neighborhood, it seemed clear that such large, intrusive towers should be subject to more scrutiny by city planning agencies. Councilman Darrell Clarke even passed a bill that would trigger a review for any building taller than 125 feet. But it appears that Federman applied for a building permit before the bill became effective.

The Barnes Tower, in my view, is problematic not so much for its height, as for its anti-urban siting on the block. Federman's proposed tower has other issues. First, the site is tiny - basically the size of a Spring Garden Street townhouse. A 40-story tower and underground garage is a lot of program to squeeze onto such a small plot of land. There are other tall buildings on the block, including Museum Tower, but nothing approaching 40 stories. I've always admired the spunky little art deco building on the site, which would look like something from Miami Beach if it weren't painted such a dreary gray and black. Its engaging, curved front facade grasps the corner of 19th Street like a firm handshake. Plus it's in scale with the townhouse rhythms of Spring Garden Street. To put a tower there would mean building something that looked like twizzle stick. Freeland said the CDC plans to fight the project.

There are arguments to be made, both pro and con, about the addition of new high-rises in the Spring Garden neighborhood. But one thing is clear: there should be arguments and they should be made in public. The impact of these buildings is too great simply to write developers a blank check.


Anonymous HospitalityGirl said...

A Planning Commission with teeth and a clue would be really, really nice right about now. It is high time residents were not surprised with these stealth, middle of the night moves any more.

6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually like the idea of towers fanning out around the city.

A lot of NIMBY's react negatively..and its usually to a very local condition - ie: a bit of sunlight lost here, the massing a bit too big there. More mature cities have towers mixed in with the lower scale residential...and it can be quite elegant.

8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meanwhile vacant needy lots abound in center city.Market Street is dotted with them.Perhaps most egregious is the ppa lot at 19th + Walnut and the Spillove catastrophe on 16th + Arch St.

People in this city sure do like to complicate things.

9:03 PM  
Anonymous FumedO said...

Yes, can someone explain the rationale why these developers continue to push the envelope. Why not build in University City where a 40 foot tower would compliment the Cira Centre splendidly. Why not build up west market with the fabulous new views of Schuylkill Banks?

What is the sudden fascination with high rises on Spring Garden?

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can smell the spin on this one...

Not to nitpick or take sides, as I'm not familiar with the block or the project....but don't you think you are spinning this just a tad????

"a stealth permit for a 40-story tower on a townhouse-sized site at the southeast corner of 19th and Spring Garden Streets"

First of all....I wouldn't call it a "stealth permit". Just because you can get a permit without announcing it doesn't make it stealth. Do I get a "stealth permit" when I go to get a plumbing permit for my house simply b/c I don't announce it to the world? Come on. Don't imply that the developer is sneaky. If you want to blame someone, blame the city for the process....the builder did nothing wrong.

Second of all....a "townhouse sized lot". I call BS Inga. First, how would one build an "84-car underground" garage on a townhouse sized lot. Then, per the BRT records, this lot is large - 40' x 167'. Land Area: 10,244 SqFt. That's nearly a 1/4 acre. Now, tell me where you can find a townhouse in philly....or anywhere, on a 10,000 sf lot????? I live in a townhouse and the lot size is 1,000sf.

How about a fair write-up on this one instead of the deceptive spin? You don't have to like the project, you can share your opinions and reasons you oppose it....but let's tell the truth.

12:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The zoning for this site was no secret. If the building was a surprise, the possibility of something similar shouldn't have been. In this case, the zoning - higher intensity res/com on the south side of Spring Garden St. only - is not only on the books, it is entirely appropriate.

If this was north of Spring Garden I might think differently. But this is the kind of development we should be raving about. Look, I'm all for neighborhoods, preservation, and great mod architecture, but this will be good for Franklintown, and good for Philadelphia. Now if we can only get SEPTA to do something with that Callowhill/Pennsylvania Ave rail corridor...

7:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inga, Inga, I'm disappointed in you. What's with the scare mongering? The lot is clearly not a townhouse sized lot. That's just blatantly false. Granted, it's not a huge lot, but is it really necessary to distort the truth to convey your objection to the project? Please.

Also, here we go again with the "stealth" permit stuff. Give me a break. If you want to require every project to go through the ZBA hearing gauntlet, then petition your council person. Otherwise, please stop crying about developers complying with the law. God forbid.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what's the big deal? with the slow down in condo sales, that place will never get built anyway.

If your going to have a commission take charge of anything, have it make sure that the money and the project will be built before they start tearing down buildings...IE: DisneyHole, Sansom street, and countless others.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Anthony said...

Im all about neighborhoods, and the people that live in them, but the fact of the matter is that Philadelphia is a very large city. We are experiencing some growing pains, yes, but people need to get used to living among these towers. It can only be good for the city to begin developing the south side of Spring Garden this way. The city should also be working to get developers to build on Market west of 20th st, and in U. City as well. These two areas are very underdeveloped as far as "Downtown" is concerned. I understand the worry of the neighbors, but killing the projects only because they feel the builings are too high, is a helping no one... Your neighborhood is important, yes, but lets not forget the larger picture... you live in a very large city, ultimately, that is more important than preserving the low-rise nature of your neighborhood.

10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe they didn't contact the community because all the community would do is fight it.

The only people that ever show up are people who are totally against the project. (Like the people in the surrounding midrises to Barnes that harped on the shadows...selfishness at its finest)

Just like road constuction...the only people who are concerned enough to show are those who hate it. Thus...all the uncompleted projects around the area like the NE subway, Woodhaven Road, the Pulaski Expressway, the missing Turnpike/95 junction...

...and now Fairmount. I hope they are happy in about 10 years when they fail to have enough population to keep the retail and restaurants alive on Fairmount Ave or have the density to justify Septa lines. (They want dining but fight parking..they think people will actually take a bus to dinner)

Guess they forget that other parts of the city aren't against development and it is a competition.


10:37 AM  
Blogger Stephen Lauf said...

The Lucky Bums do it again!

1:38 PM  
Blogger HughE2030 said...

Another scary corner in the evening. I welcome a 40 story condo. Maybe it will begin the Spring Garden Street revival. Perhaps this will keep Whole Foods in the neighborhood.

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People act like this is Chicago or New York and these buildings will actually be built. There is a very limited demand for luxury condos within Philadelphia city limits and we have more than enough tower proposals to satisfy it. These towers don't have a chance. Affordable apartment complexes would be a better investment for the developers. Wealthy Philadelphia suburbanites would rather buy downtown getaways in NYC than Philly for good reason.

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Stephen said...

I agree this seems like a little bit of scare-mongering. What on earth does the fact that Pat Freeland is furious have to do with anything? When was she elected to represent anybody on anything? Why do you give her views some kind of supernormal credence and value?
If you like the little art deco building (has there been any tenant in it for the past 10 years?) then that's fine, but to use the STEALTH story---again, meaning that someone didn't come kiss Pat Freeland's ring before doing something might be one of the most absurd uses of that term.

Inga---you should know better---in SG, Pat Freeland is neither the monarch nor an elected anything, even though you and others give her a soapbox for dictating what HER views are.

And the very fact that's it's thin (n-s) makes it much better than a shorter e-w building anyway.

PS---I don't buy the "it won't happen anyway" story of some of your commentors--I think SG is still attactive and can become more urban (in spite of our suburban style low density nimby shouters)---SG has the opportunity to become our version of Back Bay Boston---it can be more dense, and the income levels are high and growing and it is CLOSE to Center City. The 2-story only crowd can move north of Fairmount or Girard---there's plenty of shorter buildings there to make them happy!

10:20 PM  
Anonymous HowardBHaas said...

Here's my 8-5-06 photo of the Art Deco building, 1822 Spring Garden:

Here's its surroundings, including the red brick extension to the south that seems to be part of the building:

Close up of one of the two EAGLES on top of the Art Deco building:

Spring Garden, across the street on the north side:

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't get those photo links to post correctly here, so I placed them at phillyblogs Center City as a new thread:

Or, search at for 1822 Spring Garden

5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A 40 story tower on that site would simply be ridiculous!! However, the site could take a 20 story condo tower. Save the 40 story condo towers for Broad and Spring Garden. Knock down that tasteless state office building and include a lot of retail on the ground floor. A modern glass hotel of 40-45 stories could go right across the street next to the high school on what is now a large surface parking lot. This section of Broad St. at Spr. Gdn. St. is only about 4/5 blocks from the convention center expansion. Two new gleaming towers will push center city north up Broad Street forever. Just include plenty of ground floor restaurants on both sides and you will have an area comparable to Chelsea or G.V. in NYC. Wake up - this city needs proper planning!!

8:53 PM  
Anonymous davis said...

I appreciate your understanding that this is about Philadelphia's unique urban values. Part of that is historic preservation. My bigger fear is the loss of the existing homes on the south side of Spring Garden. I also think there's little chance this will actually be built with the downturn in real estate values.

The city government is tragically, tragically inept.

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a resident of Spring Garden, I'm frustrated not by this particular project specifically (nor the Barnes Tower), but by the lack of planning and urban design standards for the area.

Should the area south of Spring Garden feature dense, high-rise development as a transition from Center City and the Parkway to upper Fairmount? That is one possible vision for the area, and I'm not opposed to it outright.

If that is the vision, though, it should be accompanied by thresholds, guidelines and requirements that help make the area attractive, vibrant, and livable, such as:

-Building heights and bulk should follow a transition that respects existing uses, view corridors, and the overall context.

-Setbacks should be used to preserve visual corridors and reduce shadows.

-The interface between the buildings and streetscape should be designed carefully.

-Opportunities for mixed uses, focused on locally-owned businesses (not chains), should be provided.

-Building densities should be regulated based on the carrying capacities of the area road network and other infrastructure.

In addition, there should be some requirements that relate to sustainability. High-density development can support sustainability because it uses less land and it relies on existing infrastructure. If we have higher densities south of Spring Garden, let's maximize the benefits of that by:

-requiring new high-rise buildings to be certified by the US Green Building Council as LEED silver or higher

-tying a developer's ability to increase density to the achievement of green building features

I can't really fault the developers for obtaining their permits legally. However, I'm unhappy that buildings of this size can be permitted with so little review or public input.

How can we move beyond our concerns about the heights of these buildings, and the permit process, to achieve something positive here? Please let me know, as I would like to be involved.

-Ms Green Jeans

2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The comments about Pat Freeland were very interesting. She was elected President of the Spring Garden Civic Association about 16 years ago and is evidently President-for-Life since there are no more elections. Independent of that, she is a member (President? CEO?) of the Spring Garden Community Development Corporation, a supposed non-profit that builds market value houses in Spring Garden. As such, she is not a disinterested person but a rival developer.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spring Garden (CDC/developers/Pat Freeland/Fumo) has completely sucked up the neighborhood and now objects to these bldgs probably because they aren't part of it. (hey, have you heard who bought the Divine Lorraine Hotel?)
Fairmount can't agree on anything and it's new CDC has a suburban agenda, including "kiosks, a-la-Bryn Mawr" on "The Avenue".
Smith Kline moved off Spring Garden St years ago, along with most small businesses, hurting the neighborhood restaurants, who got a good hit in the 80's (like everyone), recessed in the early nineties; picked up steam with the cheerleading mayor banking on the hospitality industry to put Philly on the map as a "World Class" city, but fucking up with the Convention Center, the liquor tax and complete lack of support for small businesses (100 employees and under-restaurants-are the biggest employeers), except for side walk cafes, which took years and years of lobbying by a few rest. owners by having to spend hours and hours and hours out of their 16 hr 24/7 days down at Cityhall and fighting with every neighbor who also didn't believe in trees because of the leaves...Street took all the credit for that bill. The area restaurants have been suffering since 2001 and bank on PMA's every other big show they might be able to get, and "the coming of Barnes". Hey, how bout throwing Philadelphia's small guys some of those "incentives" the new big guns are getting!
Oh, I think lots of "new construction" retail space is a great idea?????????????????? Have you taken a real close look at Fairmount Ave.?
Jesus people, parochial thinking is Philadelphia's curse! 2 steps forward and 10 steps backward (ok, 4 steps backward)
Pardon my unedited, unproofed, unspell- and-ungrammer checked rant.
p.s. I love the new Hancock bldg!
p.p.s. A city planning group for architecture and design should be the soap box.

12:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inga, aren't you from New York? Surely you can see the small-mindedness of Philadelphians in the anti-hi-rise rhetoric that we hear again and again. Why do Philadlephians think that boxy, red-brick row homes are the only things that should be built? There are many reasons why Philadelphia is often perceived as a smalltown. Small-town, anti-change thinking is one of these reasons. The city needs about 100 more hi-rises, and yes, hi-rises do belong in urban neighborhoods. If these anti-change naysayers actually ever went to other cities like Boston or Chicago, they would realize that hi-rises aren't always clustered entirely in a small piece of downtown.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was born in Philly & grew up there. I've lived in a few different towns & have visited many others.

I currently reside in overpriced LA where 500,000 dollars gets you much of nothing.

I would always brag about our downtown to native angelenos because theirs rolls up at 7:00 Pm for the most part & some areas are sooo bad & disgusting that you don't want to be down there after dark.

They are developing new hi- rises down town and the only complaints concerning hight is in areas that block off views from the houses built on hilly areas.

Philly has none in the inner city areas, so why bother?
I shoot video for a living so I get to travel to other cities and get access to their downtowns, etc;
The last time I was working in Philly I was in one of the hi-rise bldgs. & the view was not all that exciting compared to areas in (LA?)of all places because here there's not only downtown but century city, west hollywood,westwood, woodland hills,etc; So as you ride the freeways you get to see tall blds. all over town whether it's condos, apts,or office bldgs.

So what's the problem with Philly?
When are we gonna get outta the 50's? I really enjoy the skyline of Chicago, LA, NYC, Houston, etc;

Philadelphians should encourage growth of taller bldgs.

Also I belive that a lot of those stink old row homes need to be knocked down & replaced with a different style of homes (still brick) and yes the wage tax needs to be lowered.
Two new subway lines should be added & the old ones and the stations should be thoroughly renovated, (DC,ATL,& LA..LA! Of all places has nicer,cleaner, & safer rail lines than we do as a`matter of fact they have 4 lines Red, (Downtown to North Hollywood)Blue, (Downtown To Long Beach)Green, (The South Bay to LAX) and the new Gold Line (Downtown to Pasadena)Man Philly has all the right ingredients for major growth but yet our planners & politicians think so small.

4:14 PM  

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