The saga of 4224 Baltimore Ave. has taken a satisfying turn.
We first pondered this property back in the spring of 2012, wondering how it was possible that a large vacant lot could exist across the street from the wonderful Clark Park. A year later, we were excited to learn about a by-right plan for 92 apartments, though details were lacking at the time. After another year, we covered an impressive community outreach process from developers the Clarkmore Group with help from U3 Advisors, which resulted in a host of changes to the project. The revised plans called for 132 condos and rental apartments, retail, and roughly 1:2 parking. Last fall though, the project seemed like it was in jeopardy as the developers were looking for an ordinance, but Councilwoman Blackwell was unwilling to oblige despite requests from multiple community groups.
Ultimately, the project went before the ZBA in April in a late night session, as reported by Plan Philly, with the support of the Councilwoman and just about every community group in the area. Two neighbors on the 4500 block of Pine Street were strongly opposed to the project, and their testimony seemed to move some ZBA members. Thankfully, the ZBA narrowly approved the project last week. The project, designed by Cecil Baker and Partners, will use primarily brick and glass, and will stand as a stark contrast to the countless Victorian homes in the neighborhood.
As we said, the project had overwhelming community support, which was echoed by Barry Grossbach, SCHA zoning chair. Grossbach said that at meetings with 100 people, 99 supported the project. Friends of Clark Park and the University City Historical Society also supported the project.
“When you're doing new construction it never really works if you're trying to replicate what already exists,” Grossbach said. “It never works out right.” Instead, he explained, you get the sense that new structures come off as imitations. The new 132-unit building, which designs show will be of varying earth tones of green and brown, will be a distinct structure all its own, Grossbach opined. “It won't detract from anything.” He recalled years ago, the planning process for The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, when some critics wondered the new hospital should be built of red brick like much of the existing HUP next door.
Across the street from Clark Park, and one of the first structures folks see coming around the turn along Baltimore Avenue from 43rd Street, the new building will be “decidedly different,” Grossbach said. “Yet it doesn't contrast in a negative way with what we have.”
Now let's collectively cross our fingers that the pair that opposed the project don't appeal the ZBA's decision. This project has waited long enough.