2400 South Street - Toll Brothers - Update
2400 South Street appears before the Zoning Board of Adjustment for final review at a special hearing Wednesday December 14 at 1 PM (1515 Arch Street, 18th Floor). SOSNA urges all neighbors with opinions on this project - whether for or against - to attend this hearing. Please remember to fill out a white appearance slip upon arrival at the hearing room to uphold your legal right to appeal the ZBA's decision if you so choose, and at the very least to be notified by mail of that decision once it is rendered.
What follows is a chronology of events charting SOSNA's involvement with this project in our ongoing efforts to be open, transparent and clear about our role in development. (Italics = public meetings)
As many of you know, for the past 7 months SOSNA has been working tirelessly with Toll Brothers, our partner civic organizations, neighbors and City officials to help make the much-needed redevelopment of 2400 South Street the best possible project for our community. We all want to see this long-vacant site redeveloped and done in such a way to benefit the health, safety and welfare of all our residents for decades to come.
However, it was clear from the moment the proposed project was first presented to the community on May 18, 2011 that much work was needed to bring this about. The initial plan had many shortcomings: it proposed essentially a gated community with an interior parking garage along 24th Street between South and Bainbridge at the street level; there were a number of gaps in the street wall and there was no accessible programmed community space. The public and SOSNA’s Zoning Committee articulated these design concerns as well as the negative impact such a plan would have on safety. These plans can be viewed at this link: May 18, 2011 2400 South Street Presentation Materials. The applicants were asked to take these concerns and revise their plans accordingly.
Toll Brothers reached out to SOSNA again this past August with "revised" plans to see if they were on the right track. At first glance it was immediately apparent that aside from a few new doors and windows, the plans remained largely unchanged. Empty spaces and dead walls abounded, and still no community space. These plans can be viewed at this link: August 4, 2011 2400 South Street Presentation Materials Revised. Again, SOSNA's main concerns were: creation of another gated community in our urban neighborhood, little-to-no pedestrian interaction at the street level on 24th or Bainbridge, and the lack of any commercial space on a lot that permits it by-right. Again, they were asked to please consider further revision before returning for a full community meeting.
On October 19, 2011 Toll Brothers made their final presentation before the SOSNA Zoning Committee and dozens of neighbors. The plans were again largely in the same vein as those in May and August. In response to SOSNA's request to bury the interior parking garage in the condo tower, Toll proposed sloping the garage such that it would be mostly underground at 24th and South Street, thus permitting the creation of three residential units in an attempt to enliven this corner. These plans can be viewed at this link: October 19, 2011 2400 South Street Presentation Materials Revised. At the Zoning Committee meeting, neighbors came out overwhelmingly opposed to the project as designed. The SOSNA Zoning Committee itself re-iterated the same concerns from previous months and neighbors one after the other testified in opposition. Some did so to protest the lack of commercial at 24th and South and 24th and Bainbridge; some to protest the lack of street frontage on Bainbridge Street; some to protest the interior parking garage; while others to criticize the condo tower's architecture. In the end, the SOSNA community voted 3-41 in opposition to the project. Subsequently SOSNA Zoning Committee Chairman, Paul Toner, submitted a letter of "strong opposition" to the ZBA in advance of Toll's hearing. This letter can be viewed at this link: October 31, 2011 SOSNA Letter to the ZBA.
Prior to the November 2, 2011 ZBA hearing, representatives of SOSNA and its fellow stakeholder organizations - the Center City Residents Association (CCRA), and South Street West Business Association (SSWBA) - appealed personally to Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger to help coax Toll Brothers to design a better project. As a result, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) decided to conduct two public meetings in November and December to review the project, and asked the ZBA to continue their decision until after these hearings. The ZBA allowed Toll to present its case on November 2 but held all other comment and testimony until a "special" hearing scheduled for December 14th.
The first PCPC hearing took place on November 15, 2011. PCPC members asked pointed questions about many of the plans deficiencies already mentioned, and SOSNA, CCRA, SSWBA, the Naval Square H.O.A. and South X Schuylkill Committee testified in opposition. One PCPC commissioner said that the lack of townhomes on Bainbridge Street was a "non-starter" for her.
In the intervening days and weeks, Toll met independently with PCPC staff to formulate possible revisions, and on November 22, 2011 submitted substantially revised plans to SOSNA. The PCPC conducted a meeting on November 30, 2011 between Toll and the neighborhood stakeholder groups (SOSNA, CCRA, SSWBA, and Naval Square H.O.A.) to review the revisions. These plans can be viewed at this link: November 30, 2011 2400 South Street Presentation Materials Revised. In total, there were 10 revisions:
- Added 2,080 SF of commercial/retail space in the condo building at the corner of 24th and Bainbridge Street.
- Added a HOA/Management office with windows in the middle of the condo building along 24th Street.
- Added roughly 420 SF of “un-programmed” space with windows on 24th Street just north of the lobby.
- Eliminated the gardens for the condos that front South and 24th Street.
- Changed access to the interior parking garage to be directly from Bainbridge Street as opposed to through the drive court.
- Reoriented the site plan to eliminate the row of townhomes that were perpendicular to South Street.
- Added 3 more two-over-two townhomes that front on South Street.
- Added a new row of 11 two-over-two townhomes that front along Bainbridge Street in place of surface parking spaces.
- Changed the orientation of the interior courtyard and reduced its size significantly (previously 28 homes, now 16); and,
- Added a small row of 4 two-over-two townhomes with front surface parking.
SOSNA representatives and those from our fellow civic organizations liked the revisions, though some logistical questions remained about potential use restrictions on the new commercial space, and potential site plan improvements that could allow vehicular access directly on to 25th Street heading north.
Immediately following the meeting at PCPC, the SOSNA Board of Directors discussed the revisions at length. It resolved that the revisions above were substantial enough to warrant changing SOSNA's position to non-opposition as they specifically addressed concerns raised by our neighbors at public meetings and as articulated in the October 31, 2011 letter. That said, just because the project was improved does not mean it was without flaws. The Board requested that the SOSNA Zoning Workgroup discuss these revisions in detail at its monthly public meeting and recommend specific improvements for the official SOSNA letter.
At the December 7, 2011 SOSNA Zoning Workgroup meeting, neighbors and workgroup members found the revisions to be an improvement, but still found the project wanting. Some did not feel enough changes had been made to warrant SOSNA altering its position, and most objected to any attempts to restrict uses of the commercial spaces. In the end, the Workgroup crafted the five following points for inclusion in the SOSNA letter:
- Increase floor-to-floor height of first floor to 14 feet to increase the viability of commercial space.
- Use of commercial space consistent with C-2 commercial uses.
- Consider the site plan providing vehicular access to 25th Street.
- Un-programmed space needs to be an occupied space.
- The majority of the attendees still want commercial space on the first floor of 24th and South Streets and a commercial facade to compliment that use.
In response SOSNA submitted a letter of non-opposition including the above 5 points to the ZBA on December 13, 2011. This letter can be viewed at this link: December 12, 2011 SOSNA Letter to the ZBA. Toll continued to revise their plans, submitting further revisions for review on December 12, 2011. The revised plans increased the commercial space to nearly 2,500 SF, moved the lobby northwards, and added a fitness center with treadmills along 24th Street at the ground floor. (Plans will be presented at the ZBA meeting). At the December 13, 2011 PCPC meeting, the Commission voted unanimously to recommend support for the revised plans.
In sum, the final project is certainly not perfect, but it represents a vast improvement over what was first presented to the community on May 18, 2011. This was a long and arduous process with many public meetings and long hours, but SOSNA believes the project is the better precisely because of this hard work. SOSNA thanks all those neighbors and volunteers for working so hard to help bring about a better project for our community.
Lastly, whether you are in favor of the project or not, or whether you agree with SOSNA's non-opposition or not, we cannot stress enough the importance of attending the special ZBA hearing on December 14 at 1 PM (details at the top of this post). There have been great discussions had about this project that go to the core of what it means to live in a city. We hope such robust discussions take place at the ZBA.