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Developer, foes settle dispute about Rittenhouse Square tower


According to news reports, the last undeveloped parcel in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia will see the construction of a 47-story tower thanks to the settlement of a dispute between the developer and neighbors who opposed the original concept of a 55-story tower. Details are still pending, but the basic agreement is said to allow completion of commercial real estate development in the Square.

The developer, Southern Land Co., initially proposed a 55-story glass-clad tower that would comprise condominium and rental apartments. The size of the footprint would have necessitated demolition of the Rittenhouse Coffee Shop and the Warwick apartment buildings. In addition to urging preservation of these historic properties, opponents of the project argued that the building would have been out of scale for the neighborhood.

The revised plan calls for construction of a smaller tower faced with pre-cast concrete and glass, instead of the all-glass façade in the original plan. The reduced footprint of the new tower will permit preservation of both the Rittenhouse Coffee Shop and the Warwick apartments, which the developer will now turn into low-income supportive housing that will be operated by Project Home. The exact number of apartment units in the revised plan has not been finally determined, but a director of the Center City Residents Association, the major critic of the project, has said that the total number of units will not exceed 335. The developer originally asked for re-zoning of parcel to make it as permissive as the Center City's skyscraper district. In return for the developer's agreement to a lower density zoning, the neighborhood group will support an amendment to the zoning classification for the site that will allow the developer to build more units on commercial property elsewhere in the city.

The resolution of this dispute shows how a creative knowledge of the zoning code and a willingness of all parties to consider alternatives can create a solution in which all parties benefit. Anyone involved in a similar dispute may wish to consult an experienced real estate lawyer for advice on the zoning laws and procedures that will affect the final decision.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, "Shorter tower now envisioned for last major Rittenhouse Square-area development site," Jacob Adelman, Dec. 27, 2016

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