Permit And Postponement Put Jewelers Row In Urgent Jeopardy

 

The fate of 704 and 706-08 Sansom Street on Jewelers Row continues to hang in the balance as pending demolition looms in the foreground. Today the Philadelphia Historical Commission issued a continuance for the two buildings, tabling a vote for 90 days on nominations submitted for placement on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia in their ongoing efforts to protect and preserve the historic fabric of the country’s oldest diamond district. On Wednesday national suburban homebuilder Toll Brothers was issued a demolition permit for the buildings by the Department of Licenses and Inspections. The real estate firm plans to raze five connected properties along Jewelers Row, all part of Carstairs Row, the first speculative row house development in Philadelphia, and build a 16-story condominium tower in their place.

On October 21, the Committee on Historic Designation voted in favor to recommend the properties to be listed on the local register. However, the Commission voted today to hold off on accepting or rejecting the nominations to avoid what Commission members said would lead to legal confusion and a false perception of hope for public advocates seeking to save the active buildings. “The Historical Commission can have an opinion, but cannot invalidate the permit,” said Commission member Mike Fink. “Voting today would confuse the public and muddy the waters. We don’t want to plant seeds before a heavy frost.”

Continuity and historical context inform the cornice line of Jewelers Row | Photo: Michael Bixler

On Wednesday a demolition permit for 704 and 706-08 Sansom Street was granted to real estate firm Toll Brothers by L&I. The real estate firm plans to raze five buildings pictured here along Jewelers Row for a 16-story condominium tower. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Responding to the ruling to shelve a decision on the nominations, Paul Steinke, executive director of the Preservation Alliance, said that the “role of this commission is not legal, it’s historical” and that voting on both nominations in the meeting today would be most appropriate. “I understand that Commissioner Fink doesn’t want to muddy the waters on the legal side and doesn’t want to plant seeds with heavy frost around the corner, but we believe we have an idea for climate change that will forestall that heavy frost.”

Attorney Hal Schirmer, legal council for the Preservation Alliance, opposed the continuance and urged the commission to rethink its decision to postpone voting on 704 and 706-08 Sansom Street. “Per the city preservation code, the Commission has a duty and a responsibility to decide if these facts are correct and the properties historic. I know from other projects that the Historical Commission takes the position that it does not rule on the validity of a demolition permit, whether it is valid or invalid,” said Schirmer. “As of right now there is no evidence whatsoever of any demo permit being properly posted, being issued to the correct person, or being on L&I’s website.”

Commission chair Bob Thomas said that they will continue to monitor the situation and revisit the two nominations in 90 days, whether the buildings are demolished or nothing has changed.

About the author

Michael Bixler is a writer, photographer, and managing editor of Hidden City Daily. He is a former arts and entertainment reporter with Mountain Xpress weekly in Asheville, North Carolina and a native of South Carolina. Bixler has a keen interest in adaptive reuse, underappreciated architecture, contemporary literature and art, and forward-thinking dialogue about people and place. Follow him on Instagram



1 Comment


  1. Joseph J. Menkevich

    MUDDY WATERS MADE CLEAR: JUNE Term 2016

    UNIVERSITY CITY HISTORICAL
    V.
    CITY OF PHILADELPHIA

    The title of 14-1005(6)(f) is “Jurisdiction During Consideration”. The
    Commission and Law Department have misunderstood and misapplied this section
    because they believe the code is about granting jurisdiction to the Historical Commission.
    It is not. This code section is about removing L&I’s jurisdiction to issue permits until the
    Historical Commission takes a final vote on a request to designate a historic resource.

    FINDING OF FACTS
    http://planphilly.com/uploads/media_items/4046-48-chestnut-street-findings-072016.original.pdf

    PAST PRACTICE & PRECEDENT

    REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON HISTORIC DESIGNATION
    PHILADELPHIA HISTORICAL COMMISSION
    WEDNESDAY, 12 NOVEMBER 2014, 9:30 A.M.
    ROOM 578, CITY HALL
    RICHARD DILWORTH, PH.D., CHAIR

    http://www.phila.gov/historical/meetingsandevents/Designation/DC%202014%2011-12%20draft.pdf
    ADDRESS: 365 GREEN LA, BENJAMIN KENWORTHY HOUSE
    Owner: 1801 CBM A TO H LLC

    Page 10
    “He stated that his client is in complete opposition of the designation of this property.

    Mr. Farnham stated that it is his understanding that the property owner holds a valid demolition permit and could act on that permit legally without the intervention of the Historical Commission; the Historical Commission does not have the authority to review or revoke the permit. He stated that the owner could go forward and demolish the building and at that point there would be little or no reason for the Historical Commission to designate the property. He stated that, while the building still stands, the Committee may discuss the historical significance of the property and make a recommendation to the Historical Commission as to whether or not it satisfies one or more of the Criteria for Designation in its current form. …

    Ms. Giles asked if the nomination is moot owing to the open demolition permit. Mr. Farnham replied that it is not, but the Commission’s designation of this property would have no impact on the property owner’s right to act on the demolition permit. He stated that the Commission may designate the property with the valid demolition permit. Mr. Laverty asked if these circumstances had ever arisen in the past. Mr. Farnham stated that he is aware of a couple of past cases in which nominations have been submitted for properties despite outstanding demolition permits. In the case of the Stephen Girard building on South 12th Street, the nomination was withdrawn to avoid compelling the owner to act on the demolition permit. That permit later lapsed, the nomination was resubmitted, and the Commission designated the property. Ms. Giles asked if anything in the Historic Preservation Ordinance precluded the Commission from acting on a nomination of a building with a valid demolition permit. Mr. Farnham stated that nothing in the ordinance precludes the Committee from offering a recommendation or the Commission from designating.

    Mr. Mooney observed the protections of the Philadelphia Register are extended to the property once the property owner is notified of the consideration of a nomination. Mr. Farnham agreed, but noted that the owner had a valid permit in hand at the time of notice. Mr. Mooney stated that the property owner was notified and obtained the permit in October. Mr. Whalen clarified that the Department of Licenses & Inspections takes into account the regulatory restrictions on the property at the date of permit application, not the date of issuance. Hal Shirmer, an attorney representing a group of neighbors, disagreed with Mr. Whalen’s assertion and contended that the date of issuance, not the date of application, is the relevant date. …”

    END RESULT:

    24th December 2014
    Roxborough’s Historic Benjamin Kenworthy House Preserved
    https://hiddencityphila.org/2014/12/roxboroughs-historic-benjamin-kenworthy-house-preserved/

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