After eight months of heated debate, zoning appeals, and historic nominations, Toll Brothers has finally revealed its design proposal for a soaring condominium tower on Jewelers Row in Washington Square West.
The design proposal calls for a 29-story tower with 115 condo units and 2,600 square feet of retail at 702-710 Sansom Street. A total of five buildings will be demolished to make way for the residential building.
The developer and designer, New York-based SLCE Architects, presented its design proposal to the Washington Square West Civic Association’s zoning board and local residents Tuesday night, ahead of its scheduled Civic Design Review meeting in early February.
The revealed renderings come eight months after Toll Brothers began quietly purchasing properties along Jewelers Row and S. 7th Street in May 2016. When demolition permits were pulled later that year to build what was initially supposed to be a 16-story residential building, it incited a heated debate among the developer, business owners, residents, and local preservationists.
The development news garnered so much attention that Mayor Kenney weighed in on the project—twice—pleading with Toll Brothers to release their plans and attempt to save the facades of the buildings.
Toll Bros. and SLCE began their presentation highlighting the height of other towers in the neighborhood, including the 45-story, 498-foot-tall St. James on Washington Square.
The proposed 29-story tower tops out at about 354 feet and will replace five buildings on Jewelers Row and another on South 7th Street. A majority of the 32 buildings on Jewelers Row range between three and four stories tall.
According to Toll Bros. representative Brian Emmons, of five designs the developer presented to community stakeholders over the past few months, they preferred the tallest height most.
No shadow studies have been conducted on the proposed tower yet.
In an attempt to “knit history, from old to present,” the building is a bit two-faced: The Sansom Street facade would be a mix of brick and metal paneling with factory-style windows. Three to four “modern” storefronts will be at the ground level, next to the condo’s main entrance. While SLCE said the details and materials used are attempts to recall the facades that remain on Jewelers Row, a committee member argued that it was a “little too derivative” of the building next door to the proposed tower.
Meanwhile, the northwest facade is essentially a glass rectangle. Zoning committee member and architect Richard Beck suggested that the designers needed to add more depth to this side of the tower.
During the public Q&A portion of the meeting, the tower was called an “imposing behemoth” and “a monstrosity.” Paul Steinke of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia questioned why, after numerous discussions and previous commitments to do so, the facades of the 702-710 Sansom Street structures were not preserved in the proposal.
“Many times we looked at preserving the facades,” Emmons said. “But the existing facades just don’t allow support for the base of the tower—it just looks wrong.”
For reference, here’s a comparison of Jewelers Row today versus the proposed tower.
As the meeting came to a close around 8:30 p.m., the zoning committee met privately to vote whether or not to support the by-right project. They will have a seat at the February 7 Civic Design Review meeting, where Toll Bros. and SLCE will present their proposal again.
Depending on the outcome—CDR can ask them to return for a second go—Emmons said they’ll have a more definitive timeline. But construction is expected to take two years, with the first eight to nine months including demolition and building out the core and facade.
Meanwhile, the Preservation Alliance, which has been leading the preservation battle against demolition of the current structures, submitted appeals of the demolitions that will be heard next week. Their nominations of 704, 706-08 Sansom Street for historic designation will also be considered at next month’s Historical Commission meeting.