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Debate over planned Callowhill storage facility gets heated

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CDR members voiced their disapproval of the project

Rendering by JKRP Architects, via CDR

The plan to build a seven-story self storage facility in a popular Callowhill commerce and residential corridor drew concern from neighbors and members of the Civic Design Review during a meeting this week.

“I can’t say anything positive about this project,” CDR Vice Chairman Dan Garofalo said during a CDR meeting for the Spring Garden Street development Tuesday. “There’s no way we should have a storage facility in this neighborhood.”

The proposal, brought forward Tuesday by developer Johnson Development Associates (JDA), calls for a 134,00-square-foot building at 1314 Spring Garden Street, less than a block from the Spring Garden Broad Street Line stop. It would have ground floor commercial space and six stories of self storage facilities above. It would also include 12 parking spaces and 16 bike spots, and would feature a grey and black facade on Spring Garden Street, with wide windows. The whole development would go in at what is now a large parking lot.

Where the development would go on Spring Garden St.
Google maps

Architects for the project noted that the height is equivalent to that of buildings surrounding it, and that they’ve made changes in the design based on public feedback

But CDR members who spoke during the meeting Tuesday took issue with the project, saying that it’s out of place in an area of the neighborhood that’s trying to boost commercial and residential growth. The city just opened the Rail Park several streets south of the proposed development, and a few blocks north, a residential and retail development is getting underway. It’s also surrounded by bars, restaurants, a dance studio, and schools.

“This is a burgeoning area of the city. There are massive changes happening up and down Broad,” committee member Cecil Baker said. “Is this the place for this kind of use?”

Garofalo suggested apartments above the retail space, rather than self storage, and went on to call the proposal as it is, “a joke.”

“It’s a little like a Monty Python routine,” he said.

CDR President Nancy Rogo-Trainer didn’t dismiss the proposal entirely, but agreed with her colleagues that the Callowhill neighborhood is experiencing growth in terms of fun and interesting spots to visit.

“If there’s anything that can be done to make this a more active-use development, it would be in the interest of the public realm,” she said, adding that the CDR doesn’t normally discuss the nature of a project—they focus merely on the design—but that this case was unusual.

A representative from JDA declined to comment on why they’re opting for a storage facility, rather than residential or retail space. An attorney handling the development did not return calls for comment on the project last week.

The proposal has spurred a heated debate, not just among residents and the developers, but among city leaders as well. Back in early October, The Zoning Board of Adjustment granted the project a zoning variance, allowing them to build the storage facility—a type of structure that’s banned in most of downtown Philly, according to a column by The Inquirer’s Inga Saffron. The decision drew opposition from both the Callowhill Neighborhood Association (CNA) and the Planning Commission, and led the city to actually appeal the decision.

“We’ve been working really hard, close to 20 years, to get good development in the area,” Sarah McEneaney President of the CNA said in an interview with Curbed Philly last week about residents’ concerns. “It seems like a missed opportunity.”

Apart from the nature of the construction, people also have concerns about its design.

Rogo-Trainer suggested a change in the facade, “so you have real windows with real light,” and called for more occupiable space behind the glass windows.

Meanwhile, McEneaney likes the idea of retail, but not in this case. “It felt a bit like they were throwing in a few stores to try and convince us (to support the development),” she said.

She also had a problem with the structure of the storage facilities, saying that the design of the structure is such that it will be difficult for anyone to readapt it as residential or retail space in the future.

The CDR process concluded Tuesday after giving architects and developers their suggestions, with plans to reconvene later to discuss the project further. It’s important to note that the process is merely an advisory one.

  • 1314 Spring Garden Street [CDR]
  • Long awaited Rail Park opens [Curbed Philly]
  • Mixed-use project behind Divine Lorraine, breaks ground [Curbed Philly]
  • Philadelphia expected the Rail Park to generate new development. Instead, we might get a self-storage facility. []

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