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Jewelers' Row dispute moves to Historical Commission

Several weeks ago, this blog wrote about the controversy surrounding the proposal by Toll Brothers to demolish five properties on a stretch of Sansom Street known as Jewelers' Row in Philadelphia and replace them with a 16-story condominium tower. At that time, the city notified the developer that the commercial real estate project must be considered by the City's Design Review committee before demolition can begin. Now, the dispute has found a new forum - the Philadelphia Historic Preservation Commission.

The Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia invoked a different land use law by filing a petition with the Commission asking for review by the Committee on Historic Designation to determine whether the five buildings should be placed on the city's Register of Historic Places. The letter requesting inclusion on the register said that the buildings were "significant" because of their connection with one of the city's early publishers, Henry C. Lea. According to the letter, the buildings are also representative of commercial "street architecture" of the late 19th century.

While opponents of the project questioned whether a demolition permit could be granted before the committee finishes its review, a spokesperson for the Department of Licenses and Inspections said that the city's review of the application for a demolition permit will continue without regard to the status of the historic designation process. In a court case involving another historic property, the Court of Common Pleas ruled that a demolition permit could not be granted while the historic review was pending. This decision may conceivably affect the outcome of the Jewelers' Row dispute.

The five buildings have undergone significant alterations since they were first constructed. If these changes are deemed to have altered their essential character, the buildings may be deemed unworthy of placement on the historical register. If the buildings are found to qualify for listing on the register, the developer can still obtain permission to proceed that preservation of the buildings constitutes a "special hardship." Resolution of the controversy is likely to take several months.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, "Panel takes up Jewelers Row historic nomination in challenge to Toll Bros.," Jacob Adelman, Sept. 9, 2016

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