For the past three years, Rittenhouse-area residents have watched as the plans for a 48-story tower—dubbed “The Laurel”—and its adjoining buildings, have changed direction several times.
But now, it seems the planning process for the large-scale development is coming to an end. The project developers, The Southern Land Company, were just given the go-ahead to move forward by the Civic Design Review (CDR) on Tuesday and, on Wednesday, they received approval from the Philadelphia Art Commission.
Details on the newly polished proposal for the project were revealed during the CDR meeting Tuesday.
The mixed-use development consists of a 48-story tower, which will sit on what is now a vacant lot at 1911 Walnut Street. The first two levels of the tower will be retail and lobbies, while stories four through 25 will be market rate rental units. Floor 26 will hold the building’s amenities, including a pool, while the remaining floors will contain high-end condos.
A pedestrian bridge will run over Moravian Street, connecting the tower to a two-story development that stretches along the street from 1918 Sansom to the end of the block at 20th Street. That development—which will go in place of the parking lot that’s currently there—will contain two floors of underground parking and two floors of retail.
A third phase of the project will be renovating the Warwick building and the coffee house, which sit on Sansom and will be gutted to make way for 30 units of affordable housing, which architects say will be modeled with veterans in mind. That means architects will be mindful of residents with multiple kinds disabilities as they plan the structure.
Since the project passed the Architectural Committee two months ago, it’s undergone only one change to add more spandrel glass to the exterior of the pedestrian bridge, said Kelly Summers, associate with Solomon Cordwell Buenz Architecture, the firm designing the structure.
Approval from the CDR marks a significant moment for the project, which has seen a number of iterations and phases—including changes to height and number of residential units—after it was first introduced three years ago. The Oliver Bair Funeral home was demolished to make way for the tower. A potential demolition was discussed for the Warwick building and the neighboring Rittenhouse Coffee Shop, but residents dug their heels in, and the buildings stayed (or the facades, at least).
After all that time, it seems the planning process was worth it—residents who showed up at the CDR meeting Tuesday expressed support for the newest design.
“When this building was first proposed in 2015, we had a lot of concerns,” said resident Richard Gross, adding that it seemed like something that fit in more with Miami Beach than the refined apartments and shops that dot Philly’s square. He referenced a decision by architects to set the top stories of the tower back from the street a few feet, adding that decision made all the difference. “Believe me, this is a worthwhile project.”
One resident, who said he was displeased with the curb cut of the building and with the decision to demolish the funeral home, suggested that the tower have slightly darker coloration to blend in with the red brick facade of the Warwick below.
Overall, CDR members were happy with the newest design, though they recommended that, with a building so large, architects and developers think especially carefully about every little design element.
“The devil is in the details,” said Nancy Rogo Trainer, CDR chair.