205 Race Street Developers Take Desperate Measures

New York architect Peter Gluck could not have imagined what he was getting himself into when he conceived a design for 205 Race Street, a 16-story mixed use building proposed for a vacant lot. Last summer Gluck came in from New York for the day to talk to the Old City Civic Association (OCCA) about the high-rise, which would have ground-floor retail and 128 rental apartments.

He returned to New York discouraged. OCCA had strong objections to the project, which he subsequently discussed in an interview with the Architect’s Newspaper blog. Developer Brown Hill then launched a website with a petition to get public input, feeling that OCCA might be in the minority among residents.

Inga Saffron dealt OCCA a harsh blow, however, when she advocated for the project in her Changing Skyline column in the Inquirer.

The civic association has fought high-rise developments in the past, and it’s nearly always been on the right side of the issue. This situation is different.

In its hard-line opposition to Gluck’s design, the group misses some obvious details about the site – starting with the difficult location next to the bridge and the highway ramps. This is not a beanstalk tower poking up from a pristine hedge of low-rise buildings in the heart of Old City. It’s an edge building, on the fringe of the neighborhood.

Three days later, the City Planning Commission offered its support to the zoning changes the building would require. But that’s where some complication creeps in: Because of the date of the initial proposal, the plan is subject to the old zoning code. But we’re living in the era of the new zoning code. Which is the zoning code that City Council keeps changing, despite how angry that makes all the people who worked so hard to craft the new zoning code to begin with (half of whom were…City Council members).

Now Brown Hill has chosen to trust in the city’s political dysfunction rather than the Zoning Board process. Instead of going through with the Zoning Board appeal on the project, which was approaching, the developer is hoping that a bill proposed by Councilman Mark Squilla will go through–a bill that would change the zoning code specifically so this building can get built already.

Peter Gluck, are you still listening? This is going to happen. It’s just going to take a few years and more bizarre shenanigans.

· Old City objects to use of councilmanic privilege for 205 Race St. project [PlanPhilly]