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Proposal for 31-story tower in Society Hill draws outcry from residents

Residents and CDR members clashed over the project at a meeting Tuesday

Society Hill residents clashed with members of the Civic Design Review (CDR) and architects Tuesday over plans to build a 31-story tower adjacent to the Sheraton Hotel on Dock Street.

In their opposition to the proposed apartment building, area residents deemed it “hulking,” an “eyesore,” and something that could block their view of the river.

The proposal, which went in front of the CDR for its first review Tuesday afternoon, calls for a tower at 1 Dock Street, connected to the brick Sheraton Hotel that currently sits on the spot. The new apartment tower would have 272 residential units, ranging from studios to three-bedrooms; below-ground parking for residents; and amenities on the second, third, and roof levels, including a pool and kitchen area on the roof. The facade of the building would include dark brick on the first few stories, and glass and metal for the remaining floors.

The plan was put together by developers LCOR, which has locations in NYC, DC, and Philly, along with Philly-based design firm BLT Architects.

Since news about the plan for the tower first broke last fall, it’s faced a lot of scrutiny from residents, many of whom are unhappy about the look and size of the building.

A group of Society Hill residents even appealed the project’s zoning permit, but they lost the appeal Tuesday morning, mere hours before the CDR meeting to review the project’s design.

Nonetheless, many residents showed up for the meeting on Tuesday afternoon, voicing their opposition to the project.

“It’s hulking and inelegant,” said Lorna Katz Lawson, who spoke on behalf of the Society Hill Civic Association (SHCA). She went on to say that the tower’s design made the adjacent hotel appear “diminutive.”

She called for a design with, “more refined architecture and craftsmanship.”

“If there’s to be a tower here, it should be one of the most beautiful buildings (in Philly),” she said, adding that it should be different in look from the Society Hill Towers across the street. The towers, she argued, are an icon of an earlier era of architecture.

The Society Hill Towers, which are three apartment buildings designed by I.M. Pei in 1960, have long been an iconic example of the modern movement in Philly. They became a sticking point at Tuesday’s meeting, with many residents questioning whether the new tower would complement or overshadow the beloved Society Hill Towers.

Side view (left) and front view (right) of the proposed structure.
LCOR and BLT Architects, via CDR

Bruce Holburg, president of the Society Hill Towers Association expressed dismay that the proposed development is 20 percent larger than the towers, and that its entrance is, “right in our front yard.”

Society Hill Towers resident James Timberlake argued that the proposed development would detract from Society Hill Towers residents’ view of the surrounding area.

“When I look out of my building on the 31st floor, that building is going to be a hand in my face,” he said.

But some of the arguments from area residents seemed to irk members of the CDR, several of whom spoke positively on the proposed development.

Leo Addimando, CDR member and head of the TK, dismissed Timberlake’s argument about the tower being a “hand in [his face]” as nothing more than a “not in my back yard” argument.

“Somewhere in my civic textbook I must have missed the chapter on how Society Hill and the towers have gained sovereignty over Philadelphia and its zoning codes,” Addimando said. “Or perhaps we’ve entered a parallel universe where property rights now have an asterisk.”

Addimando went on to call the building “very attractive” and handsome.

“The fact that it speaks to the Society Hill Towers should be viewed as a compliment and not an affront,” he said.

While Addimando was joined by other CDR members in praising the structure, several CDR members, including Addimando, raised concerns about the base level facade of the building. Several CDR members argued the dark brick that covered the first few stories did not fit with the rest of the structure.

“A building of this prominence needs to have more consideration to the first three floors,” said Daniel Garofalo, referencing the amount of brick used in the facade as well as the entrance, which he called “not as inviting as it could be.”

While questions about the design and facade of the proposed structure took center stage Tuesday, several residents also raised concerns about how the building could add to traffic congestion in the area. Their concerns prompted CDR member Ashley DiCamp to suggest a traffic study be done prior to construction.

The CDR session is only a review and suggestion meeting, meaning developers and architects will have a chance to refine their plans and present them again in the coming months.

  • Developer wants to bring 31-story apartment tower to Society Hill [Curbed Philly]

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