A meeting to discuss the new design for a 24-story glass tower on Jewelers Row turned contentious on Tuesday, when residents and Committee for Design Review (CDR) members clashed with the project’s developers over issues of trust and transparency.
The issues arose during a CDR meeting, when the architects and design team behind the Toll Brothers’ proposed 300 foot tall tower, discussed the building, which will sit on 702 Sansom Street and feature 85 condo units and ground-floor retail. The design has undergone several iterations since its original proposal in 2017, which featured a Sansom Street facade of mixed brick and glass. Now, after several meetings with the CDR—including one in February, when members called the design “undercooked”—developers have put together an almost all-glass building, with balconies reaching halfway up the structure. At the base, where the rest of the street has brick buildings, the new Toll Brothers design features a glass retail space.
“We want to marry the remaining facade of Sansom Street with the new building,” architect Jim Davidson said. They also discussed breaking the building into planes—or folds—, with various height levels, in order to do away with the look of a straight mass of glass.
But some contested the new building, saying that it conflicts with the history of the street, like Paul Steinke, Executive Director of Philly’s Preservation Alliance, who said the project “destroys the charm,” of its surroundings. He added the alliance has long fought against the proposed project and has twice urged developers to incorporate the current facade of the building into their proposal.
Davidson said developers have considered bringing in the current facade and have tried several times to incorporate it into their design, but that it never seemed to work.
“We feel we’ve done everything we can,” he added.
Others, like Cecil Baker, architect and CDR member who lives in the Washington Square area, cited issues with how much the project has changed over time—it originally shared the brick facade of other buildings on Jewelers Row.
“What we’ve ended up with is a pale, pale shadow of what we were presented,” he told developers. He remembered another building in the area, which he called, “one of the least fortunate intrusions” into the neighborhood.
“I don’t trust what I’m looking at,” he said, adding that the neighborhood has been burned before by developers who didn’t deliver what they told the public they would. “We’re giving up a big, big piece of our history for this building. We should get something that’s a joy to look at.”
The discussion surrounding the proposed structure turned more contentious as one audience member yelled out, “I want to appeal this and urge developers to put money into humanitarian efforts.”
Developers asked the community to trust them, saying they’ve done popular designs in New York City in the past.
Some members of the design team left the room following the comments, while CDR members were still ruminating on the design. They were called back in and Carl Primavera, an attorney with the project, addressed comments from the audience and CDR members.
“What I heard was ‘trust us,’ said Nancy Rogo Trainer, CDR chair, adding, “I heard a group of people give comments to a design team that was not here.”
“You came in late,” Primavera interjected, at Trainer . “We have come a long way to be here, a lot longer than some of you,” he added, to outraged cries from the audience.
Primavera went on to say that he believes concern or skepticism over the project is unwarranted, but added that the project brings the passion out in everyone.
“Nobody meant any disrespect,” he said.
The heated discussion ended with several audience members speaking up, including Roberto Pupo, a landlord on Sansom Street, who spoke in support of the project, saying that it would bring in more business. Pupo, who is from Rome, said his home city has no problem building new structures alongside old, and questioned why Philadelphians took offense to the proposal.
“Sansom Street is dying, we need the businesses,” he said.