Lots of things have happened since the summer, when we told you about plans from Toll Brothers to demolish five buildings at 702-710 Sansom St. on Jewelers Row and build a 16 story mixed-use building in their place. There was a petition organized to oppose the project that was signed by almost 7,000 people. The threatened buildings were hastily nominated to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. Hearing the objections of so many constituents, several public officials spoke out against the project.
With all of this being said, until this week, we don't believe that anything had changed regarding this by-right development. The developers got a demolition permit, the Historical Commission refused to rule on the proposed designations, and the project appeared to be slowly moving forward as we first detailed. Yesterday though, Philly.com reported something new which we confess we didn't see coming a mile away.
Toll Brothers still intends to demolish the five buildings in question, but instead of a 16 story building with 80 apartments, they'll instead build a 29 story building with 109 units. As was the case with the previous iteration, this proposal is entirely by right, thanks to the CMX-5 zoning designation on Jewlers Row. Obviously, none of the buildings on the 700 block of Sansom Street have anything that resembles this scale, despite being in a permissive zoning district.
We suspect that people will continue to fight against this project, but per Philly Voice, the City doesn't believe it has any recourse in a legal fight. So unless something really unexpected comes to pass, this thing is gonna happen and it's gonna be huge and Jewelers Row will never be the same. We will hold out some hope that the City and preservationist community will be able to pursuade Toll Brothers to maintain the existing facades on Sansom Street a la the St. James, but we have no idea why they would undertake such a costly effort if it isn't required of them.
As we said before, we'd like to see the City immediately designate the rest of the block as a Historic District to prevent copycat projects. Because you can be sure that if this centrally located, permissively zoned street doesn't pick up some additional protection soon, there will be another, similar project on the way before you can say I Hate Steven Singer. And no matter how you feel about Mr. Singer, you'll probably agree that it's good for Philadelphia for Jewelers Row to maintain as much of its character as possible in the years to come.