Developers Are Still Ignoring Philly’s Vision for the Waterfront

Waterfrontcollage

L: A photo of vacant waterfront land in South Philly today. (Photo by Jared Brey) R: A rendering from the city’s master plan for the Central Delaware.

I once had the chance to tour Waterfront Square, the condominium complex on the Delaware River in Northern Liberties, between Sugarhouse Casino and the Festival Pier at Spring Garden Street. It was for a story I never ended up writing.

The three 25-story towers there are some of the tallest buildings on the waterfront, and the views near the top are, as realtors like to say, spectacular, but not just in the real-estate-listing sense. They also provide a better vantage of Philadelphia’s place in the region than most other big vistas you can find around the city. At that height, that close to the river, it becomes very plain why Philadelphia is where it is: There’s all this fresh water flowing down from the Catskills in an ever-widening channel that eventually dumps into the Delaware Bay. And at the wide mouth, boats coming from the Atlantic Ocean can enter the river and float upstream as far as the river is deep enough to carry them. Philadelphia is well-positioned to take advantage of all of that. There are good views of Old City and broad swaths of New Jersey, and the city appears related to its surroundings in a way that it rarely does from other viewpoints.

Unfortunately, the experience on the ground is the opposite of that. The complex feels disconnected from the rest of the city, and to get back into the flow you have to leave through a mechanical gate. A few years after Waterfront Square was built, the city adopted a plan with the input of hundreds of Philadelphians that was meant to guide the development of the waterfront and improve its connections to the rest of the city. The Central Delaware Master Plan encouraged a mix of residential and commercial buildings, greater walkability, and public access to the riverfront. It discouraged parking lots and excessively tall buildings. It was hailed as forward-thinking and consensus-based, and it was codified into law with a special set of zoning standards crafted specifically for the waterfront.

Of course, even now, developers don’t always feel compelled by things like master plans or zoning laws. And there’s evidence that the waterfront is still seen as a blank canvas, despite the very clear, very earnest guidelines written right there in the law.

Earlier this month, the Inquirer reported that a developer is hoping to build a property on Columbus Boulevard with up to 2,000 apartments in 10 residential towers, most of which would exceed the height limit for the waterfront. The plans would require City Council to approve a bill easing the height limits on that site, which is between Washington Avenue and Reed Street. Jeffrey Kozero of K4 Associates, the group that is planning to build the project, said over the phone last week that he is hoping to create a self-contained community, attractive and amenity-rich enough to draw a critical mass of people to live on the waterfront. K4 doesn’t need the extra height to make the project work financially, but Kozero said it will make the project much more liveable than if the developers put all the square footage they believe they need into shorter buildings. With taller towers, there’s more open space. Read more »

Sources: Police Are Considering Moving Headquarters to Old Inquirer Building

Left: 400 N. Broad Street Right: Police Administration Building (Wikimedia Commons)

L: 400 N. Broad Street R: Police Administration Building | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

In a move that would be rich with real estate-related irony, the Philadelphia Police Department is considering relocating its headquarters to the former home of the Inquirer and Daily News.

Wait, what?

You might recall that former Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration spent several years mapping out an elaborate plan to move the department’s headquarters to the grand Provident Mutual Insurance Building at 46th and Market streets in West Philadelphia. Read more »

Report: Blatstein Offered $18 Million for Vacant Lot at Broad & Washington

The vacant lot on the northeast corner of Broad and Washington. | Photo via Google Street View.

The vacant lot on the northeast corner of Broad and Washington. | Photo via Google Street View.

Developer Bart Blatstein agreed to pay $18 million for a vacant lot at the corner of Broad & Washington under a contract with the property’s owner that’s now in question, according to a report in the Inquirer this morning.

Blatstein and representatives of N/H Philadelphia Properties, a New York-based real estate investment firm that owns the lot, met in court on Tuesday. The owner is seeking to send Blatstein on his way empty-handed, claiming that the agreement of sale expired on May 15. Blatstein, who got approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustment to build a 32-story apartment tower and rooftop retail village on the site Tuesday, still believes he’ll be able to build his project.

$18 million for a vacant lot, y’all. Though the property is assessed at $5.2 million, the owners say they’ve already received offers that exceed $18 million from other parties. Blatstein’s lawyers said that the owners are trying to cut off Blatstein while exploiting the process he went through to get additional zoning approvals on the property, according to the Inquirer.

Board Finally Approves Blatstein’s Broad & Washington Project, Litigation Still Pending

West elevation

The west elevation of the revised Blatstein mixed-use project. Rendering | Cope Linder Architects

The Zoning Board of Adjustment voted 5-0 to approve developer Bart Blatstein’s proposed apartment tower and rooftop retail village at Broad & Washington in South Philly on Tuesday morning, according to Ron Patterson, Blatstein’s attorney.

The board had previously voted to grant exceptions for the project, then vacated its vote. On Monday, a lawyer for the property’s current owner, N/H Philadelphia Properties, asked the board to delay its vote again, saying Blatstein didn’t have the right to pursue zoning approvals for the property because an agreement of sale had expired. Read more »

Lawyer: Blatstein Doesn’t Own Broad & Washington, Can’t Seek Zoning Approval

The vacant lot on northeast corner of Broad and Washington. | Photo via Google Street View.

The vacant lot on northeast corner of Broad and Washington | Photo via Google Street View

A lawyer for N/H Philadelphia Properties, the New York real estate company that owns the long-vacant lot at the corner of Broad Street and Washington Avenue in South Philly’s Hawthorne section, has sent a letter to the Zoning Board of Adjustment saying that developer Bart Blatstein has no legal right to the property and asking the board to hold its decision on the zoning approvals Blatstein is seeking for 30 more days.

For two years, Blatstein’s development company, Tower Investments, has been pursuing a project at the corner involving a 32-story apartment tower and a rooftop retail village. The zoning board heard his application for special exceptions last month, but opted to hold its decision for two weeks. It later voted to approve the project, then decided to vacate that vote because two weeks hadn’t passed. At a meeting last week, when the board was scheduled to take its final vote, two board members were absent and no vote took place. Read more »

Broad & Washington: Anatomy of an Unvote

Northwest lot of Broad and Washington | Image via Google Street View

This lot at the northwest corner of Broad and Washington will remain empty at least one week longer than it otherwise might have because of the need to observe protocol. | Image via Google Street View

Since we’re sure many of you following the saga of 1001 South Broad, Bart Blatstein’s megaproject at the northeast corner of Broad Street and Washington Avenue, are still scratching your heads wondering how it was that the Zoning Board of Adjustment voted on Blatstein’s request for special exceptions, then undid its action, we have an explanation for you courtesy of Department of Licenses and Inspections press spokesperson Karen Guss.

It seems that the vote-unvote was a byproduct of an admirable effort on the part of the ZBA to get the flow of appeals moving more expeditiously. Read more »

Johnson Calls for Construction Moratorium at Broad & Washington

West elevation

The west elevation of the revised Blatstein mixed-use project. Rendering | Cope Linder Architects

On Wednesday, the Zoning Board of Adjustment voted to approve developer Bart Blatstein’s plans for a 32-story apartment tower and rooftop retail village on a vacant lot at Broad and Washington in South Philly. Then, later, it realized it had jumped the gun by voting just one week after the zoning hearing, at which time it had said it would hold its decision for two weeks. So it vacated its vote and will presumably vote to approve the project next week.

But on Thursday, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson—who opposed the project when it went to the zoning board—introduced a bill that would put a one-year moratorium on construction of any kind on that property. Read more »

City Board Approves Blatstein Project, Then Says Nevermind

1001 South Broad

The revised design for Bart Blatstein’s Broad and Washington development, which received the special exceptions he sought from the ZBA today. Rendering | Cope Linder Architects

After saying it would need two weeks to mull over everything developer Bart Blatstein presented at its April 26th meeting, the Zoning Board of Adjustment Wednesday voted to grant the two special exceptions Blatstein sought for his mixed-use residential/retail/office development at the northeast corner of Broad Street and Washington Avenue. Then, later in the same meeting, the board reportedly decided that it should wait until it said it would vote and vacated its earlier decision.

A Philadelphia Inquirer news report stated that board chairman Jim Moylan could not be reached for comment on why the board went ahead and voted a week before it said it would. A source who remained until the end of the meeting to hear another case later reported that shortly before that last case, the board members recused themselves, then came back and announced that they had to vacate the earlier vote because their earlier vote to continue Blatstein’s case for two weeks had to stand. Read more »

ZBA Wants Time to Digest Blatstein Proposal

The Civic Design Review panel was as critical of Bart Blatstein's revised proposal as its neighbors have been of the original. Perhaps he should go back to the drawing board? | Rendering: Cope Linder Architects

So far, no one’s been happy with Bart Blatstein’s 1001 South Broad proposal. The developer gave the ZBA so much material that it wants two weeks to mull it all over. | Rendering: Cope Linder Architects

Bart Blatstein will have to wait two more weeks to find out whether he has permission to pursue his vision for a rooftop retail village and 32-story apartment tower with garage parking for 600 cars on a long-vacant lot at Broad Street and Washington Avenue, at the southwest corner of Hawthorne. The zoning board opted to hold a decision on the project while it considers the “excessive information” presented at a hearing on Wednesday afternoon.

Blatstein is seeking two special exceptions from the zoning code to build 1,000 apartments and 625 parking spaces on the lot. At the hearing, community members objected to the project over a host of concerns, while zoning board chairman Jim Moylan tried to limit their comments to the two issues before the board: the above-ground parking garage and the retail uses on the roof deck. Steve Cobb, a lawyer in Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s office, also testified that Johnson is opposed to the project in its current form. Read more »

A Simple Fix That Could Make Life Easier for Bart Blatstein at Broad and Washington

The Civic Design Review panel was as critical of Bart Blatstein's revised proposal as its neighbors have been of the original. Perhaps he should go back to the drawing board? | Rendering: Cope Linder Architects

The Civic Design Review panel was as critical of Bart Blatstein’s revised proposal as its neighbors have been of the original. Perhaps he should go back to the drawing board? | Rendering: Cope Linder Architects

Residents of Northern Liberties can recount the long, drawn-out process that transformed what might have been a strip mall into Bart Blatstein’s most highly praised development, The Piazza at Schmidt’s.

Blatstein might want to consider pursuing that same involved path now if he is serious about creating a truly transformative project at Broad Street and Washington Avenue, for it’s clear that no one is really satisfied with what he is now proposing.

The latest group to register its discontent is the Civic Design Review committee, which took up Blatstein’s slightly revised proposal for 1001 South Broad yesterday. A story in The Philadelphia Inquirer captured that group’s general sentiment in the words of its chair, Nancy Rogo Trainer: “If this is the best you can do to improve this scheme, in my mind I’d go back to the drawing board.” Read more »

« Older Posts