Attack of a Killer 3rd Floor Setback on Amber Street

We were traipsing through East Kensington yesterday and happened upon some new construction at 2447 Amber St. which caught our attention but not in a good way. We’d been on this block a few times before, most recently a few months ago when we told you about Letterly Green, at the corner of Amber & Letterly. Somehow though, we never noticed the long vacant lot at 2447 Amber St. mixed in among the row of two-story homes on the block. Here are some images of the block from yesterday, see if you agree that this new construction is more noticeable than most.

View of the new home
From the other direction

One of these things is not and will never be like the others. The existing two-story homes on the block were all built at the same time, look relatively similar, and maintain a uniform cornice line. The new home has a second story that juts above the roof lines of the existing homes and has a third story that’s set back eight feet from the front of the building, making it look like a (sore) thumbs-up in the middle of the block. The fact that the home is extra-skinny seems to exaggerate these features, which we’ve seen in plenty of other examples of new construction over the last six years.

Your first inclination might be to blame the developer or the architect- but won’t fault them here, as the zoning code permits this home as a matter of right. It’s the zoning code that’s the problem in this case, and so many others we’ve seen over the last several years. When the zoning code got reformed in 2012, the City included a provision requiring any 3-story construction between two-story buildings to have an 8-foot setback. As we’ve shown previously, this is often quite problematic.

This example on Amber Street further drives home our oft-stated recommendation that the code be amended to require that three story homes on two story blocks maintain the cornice lines of the adjacent homes and utilize a mansard roof to reduce the impact of the taller home on the street. From where we sit, this would produce far more appropriate infill development. Alas, nobody seems to be listening to our feedback, and Philadelphia continues to pick up more and more homes like the one pictured above. It’s not so complicated, and we just don’t understand why the City continues to accept this approach in new residential development.