Saturday, August 24, 2013

Zoning board weighing residential tower at 20th and Market

Representatives of Brandywine Realty Trust implored the zoning board on Wednesday to grant two variances and one special exception for their proposed 28-story mixed-use residential tower at 20th and Market streets. The board heard the applicants’ testimony, as well as the objections of some residents of Penn Center House, a residential complex directly north across Commerce Street from the proposed project, but did not announce a decision about the zoning relief. The board members will discuss the case and issue a decision in the next few weeks. To build the project the way it wants, Brandywine needs variances for a curb cut on 20th Street and a small side yard, and a special exception for an above-ground parking garage with 223 parking spaces. Forty-five of those parking spots will be designated for public use, according to Brandywine attorney Carl Primavera, with the rest reserved for the residents of the building. The main tower of the project would be situated on the southern portion of the property, fronting on Market Street, while the garage is pushed toward the back along Commerce Street and the Penn Center House. Residents of that building argued Wednesday that the parking facility should be put underground to avoid blocking their access to light and air. Primavera, along with Seth Shapiro of Barton Partners, said that the project was designed explicitly to minimize the impact on the Penn Center House.

The parking garage would be about 62 feet tall, with another 10-foot "architectural trellis" on top, and screened to obscure the building’s identity as a parking garage. Residents of the lower levels of the adjacent building said that if the parking were put underground, it wouldn’t mess with their light and air. Brandywine representatives said that digging for the parking garage would add seven months to the construction of the building, and require them to install mechanical ventilation systems. Which, they argued, would be just as unsightly above-grade as the garage, plus add noise and fumes to the mix. A representative of the Penn Center House board of directors hedged. The garage, the board recognized, would put some apartments on the lower half of the building in shadow, but the mechanical ventilation system would be more unpleasant for the rest of the building’s occupants--a "hostile street environment," Carl Primavera called it. The board took no official position on the zoning relief, but its representative said he saw the above-ground garage as “the lesser of two evils.”  Ed Panek, a representative of Logan Square Neighborhood Association, the local Registered Community Organization, essentially repeated his testimony from Tuesday’s Planning Commission, in which he said the group is not opposed to the zoning relief, and is working on an agreement for traffic control on Commerce Street. Carl Primavera said that while the protestants' arguments were "heartfelt," he feels they ultimately aren't relevant to the zoning issues the board has to consider.

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