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Jewelers Row tower gets mixed reviews at Civic Design Review

But they all agreed that the tower wasn’t cohesive enough

Toll Brothers presented its design proposal to the Civic Design Review for an information-only session.
Renderings by SLCE Architects

During Tuesday afternoon’s Civic Design Review, Toll Brothers’ proposal for the 29-story condo tower on Jewelers Row was met with mixed reviews, with one committee member in full support while others questioned the project’s size and sustainability.

Still, the majority of the designers agreed on one thing: The 115-unit tower’s differing facades—glass on the south-facing side and brick on the north facade—need to go.

“It should add up to the more than the sum of its parts,” committee chair and architect Nancy Rogo-Trainer said.

But in the end, the nearly two-hour discussion between the SLCE Architects, Toll Brothers, and the CDR committee was simply that: A discussion. The presentation was purely informational, since Licenses and Inspections (L&I) is still reviewing the developer’s permit to demolish five structures and build the soaring tower in its spot.

L&I already issued a permit for the original plan that called for a 16-story tower. A new permit is needed because the project nearly doubled in height.

Here are the main questions and critiques that came out of the informational session.

Why were the facades of the original buildings not kept in the design proposal?

Toll Brothers vice president Brian Emmons listed various reasons why the buildings had to be demolished, including that the differing floor and window elevations did not allow for ADA compliance. “But most importantly, we felt that keeping the facades did not allow us to create a brand new tower that we believe is key to revitalizing this street.” In response, Rogo-Trainer told the developer and designers to come back for the actual Civic Design Review with “a really well-thought out answer to that question while keeping in mind that they’re presenting to designers and architects.”

Rendering by SLCE Architects

How are air rights being added to the project now that the tower is 29 stories?

When Toll Bros. first announced its plans to build a residential tower on Jewelers Row, the proposed height was 16 stories, the apparent maximum height that could be built on that 0.42-acre parcel. The question of how air rights were acquired to allow for the increase in height was posed by Preservation Alliance’s Paul Steinke. Lawyer Ron Patterson assured that they were “proceeding under the guidance that it is appropriate.” When architect Cecil Baker prodded them, quipping that it sounded like a case of “alternate facts,” Patterson said that the project would change if they were misguided or proven wrong.

Either choose a modern or brick facade. It can’t be both.

Developer and committee member Leo Addimando said he was a fan of the design proposal and that demolition of the current buildings would not be a loss to the fabric of Philadelphia. But, he added, “This is obviously going to be an imposing structure, so I encourage you to make it even more modern.” That was the general consensus of the committee, which throughout the meeting referred to the tower as having split personalities.

For a project of this size, aim to make it sustainable.

The Civic Design Review process now includes a “Sustainability Checklist” that encourages designers to incorporate features like stormwater management, heat island reduction, and bike share stations. Toll Brothers has not said if they are striving for a third-party certification such as LEED, but committee member Dan Garofalo encouraged them to do so, given the size and scope of the project. “The tallest building in the city will be LEED Platinum,” he said of the Comcast Technology Center, “So we know it can be done.”

He added, “It would be a positive feature for the building, the city, and you to say that we made an effort to make this a sustainable development.”

What’s next?

On Friday, February 10, the Philadelphia Historical Commission will consider nominations for three buildings on Jewelers Row to be added to the Register of Historic Places: 704 and 706-708 Sansom Street. The initial vote was delayed at the November 10, 2016 meeting.

When and if L&I issues the permit for the 29-story tower, the design proposal will officially begin the CDR process and the committee will vote whether or not to conclude or continue the reviews for another round.