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Mayor’s new Civic Design Review Committee reviews first project in Kensington

Philadelphia’s barely two-month old zoning code has brought a lot of new rules and different regulations to Philly’s development scene.  And now, the Mayor has created a Civic Design Review (CDR) Committee to advise the City Planning Commission as it reviews development projects thought to have a significant impact on the public realm.  Late last month, the mayor chose the committee members, of which there will be six standing and one rotating.  And today, at 1 p.m., the Committee will review its first project, the St. Francis Villa Senior Housing project in Kensington. 

That development, which is a 3 story, 40-unit independent living residential development at 1917-45 E. Hagert Street, will be for seniors 62 and older. The new zoning code stipulates projects to be reviewed by the committee are determined by such factors as use, size, height, location, and zoning.  The reason why the St. Francis project is up for review has to do with its variance requests for land use and parking – the parcel is currently zoned industrial and the new development is providing less off-street parking than required.
While this project is potentially an exciting one for Kensington, expect all eyes to be on the committee to see exactly how it will function and what role it will play in the development process.  According to committee member Nancy Rogo-Trainer, the committee will aim to specify proper ways development can interact with the public realm all while streamlining the development process.  “We’re not going to dictate how development should happen, but we will serve an advisory role to ensure private development has a positive impact on the public realm.” 

She believes this is a great opportunity for the city to take planning that has been done at city and neighborhood levels and ensure it’s appropriately brought to fruition.  “We’re at an important juncture in Philadelphia, with so much development going on we need a mechanism that steps back and looks at how individual projects are shaping the overall public realm .  We’re not there to advice on detailed architectural merits, we’re looking to make sure development makes sense for neighborhoods.”   

As the committee attempts to ensure projects will impact Philadelphia’s public realm in a positive manner, expect a few guiding principles to dictate the committees point of view.  “The committee will be guided by big picture ideas, seeing developments as part of a whole,” explains Trainer,  “but we’re still going to adhere to the intent of the Committee as outlined in the new zoning code.”    

Whatever advice and guiding principles that come out of committee meetings, expect them to be grounded in years of experience and wisdom from professionals in the urban planning, architecture and real estate development fields.

In addition to Nancy, who is an architect and member of the City Planning Commission, the other committee members are: Michael Johns, acting deputy executive director for operations at the Philadelphia Housing Authority; Anita Toby Lager, managing principal at LRSLAstudio; Dan Garofalo, environmental sustainability coordinator and senior facilities planner at UPenn; Anne Fadullon, director of real estate development and investment at the Dale Corporation; and Cecil Baker, architect. 

The seventh seat on the committee is rotating for each project, and will be filled by a representative from a local community organization for each project.  To that end, there will be a formal registry of community organizations to ensure their involvement in the process.

The committee is expected to meet monthly, two weeks prior to scheduled City Planning Commission meetings, where the advice and considerations of the committee will be seriously considered before the Commission approves or disapproves a project.  “This is really a terrific thing for the City,” says Trainer.  “We have a chance to clarify and streamline the development process, and over time we hope the development community and neighborhood groups see it that way as well.”   

Source: Nancy Rogo-Trainer, architect, member of the City Planning Commission
WriterGreg Meckstroth
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