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Delaware waterfront apartments? Instead, we’re getting suburban-style townhouses…

posted March 29, 2019
Delaware waterfront apartments? Instead, we’re getting suburban-style townhouses…

When Philadelphia released its master plan for the Central Delaware waterfront in 2011, it changed the way the city thought about that chaotic junkspace of warehouses, strip malls, and gas stations. Instead of repeatedly trying — and failing — to imitate the elegant, skyscraper-lined waterfronts of Vancouver and Miami, the plan argued that Philadelphia should focus on attracting more modest residential projects to the river. Mid-rise apartments were what the market wanted, the plan concluded.

It sounded like smart advice at the time. By spacing out those smaller buildings, the thinking went, the city would create the beginnings of a true urban streetscape along Delaware Avenue. The mid-rises would populate the river, bringing just enough people to Delaware Avenue to support retail and justify adding a trolley line. The waterfront’s zoning was adjusted to make it easy to erect buildings under 25 stories, using a category called CMX-3.

Yet despite considerable enthusiasm for the strategy, the story has played out very differently. Only one mid-rise has gone up over the last decade: PMC’s 16-story One Water Street, next to the Ben Franklin Bridge. Virtually every other residential project has been townhouses.
“The problem on the waterfront today isn’t overbuilding,” said Matt Ruben, the longtime chairman of the Central Delaware Advisory Group. “It’s underbuilding.”

Townhouses have always been Philadelphia’s favorite housing form, so it’s not surprising to see them migrate to the Delaware. Compared to what exists on the waterfront, townhouses are a real improvement. They’re a significantly better use than the Wawa gas stations and storage facilities that some developers have proposed.

Read the full article at Philly Inquirer.

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