Building ideas for 4224 Baltimore Ave. include underground parking and a lot more units

June 19, 2013

Baltimore Avenue

Architect Cecil Baker discusses a proposed building plan for 4224 Baltimore Avenue. The plan essentially divides the structure into two parts, with retail space (beginning near his hand) running along 43rd Street and Baltimore Ave.) that would include residential units above and a larger residential section with underground parking (behind his head).

Developers unveiled a couple of possible design plans on Tuesday for 4224 Baltimore Ave., the vacant plot of land across from Clark Park. A key remaining question is whether the building owners, who have the right to start building whenever they want, will go for one of the proposals.

About 50 community members attended the public meeting Tuesday night at the International House on Penn’s campus to offer input on building proposals that include underground parking, retail, possibly owner-occupied condos and one catch – more units. The land owners, Clarkmore Group LLC, currently have a “by right” permit to build a 92-unit residential building with no retail and only six parking spaces. They could start building tomorrow if they wanted to, with no community input. Instead the firm hired U3 Ventures, a development firm headed by former University of Pennsylvania executive and neighborhood resident Omar Blaik, to come up with alternative building plans and present them to the community.

The proposals unveiled on Tuesday included a residential and commercial structure divided into two sections. The first, closer to Clark Park near the southeast corner of 43rd and Baltimore would sit on an angle, opening the entrance to the park and allowing many of the existing trees on the property to be saved. This section would include some 8,000 square feet of retail on the first floor that would front both Baltimore Avenue and 43rd Street. Under one plan, this section would be five stories. Under another plan, just two stories. 

4224 Baltimore Avenue

Residents pour over design plans at Tuesday’s meeting. (Photos by Mike Lyons/West Philly Local)

The building’s other section would be further east on Baltimore and could be as high as 11 stories, depending on the size of the first section. That could include some terraces depending on the type of unit (apartment vs. condo) that architects say would help blend the building into residential landscape.

“To me it’s less an issue of height and more how the building breaks down,” said architect Cecil Baker, whose firm drew up the proposals.

Most residents seemed to favor a more balanced design of nine stories for the large section and five stories for the section closer to the park.

Both proposals include 65 underground parking spots and service facilities like trash removal and a freight elevator out of sight in the rear of the building, both features that residents recommended during a similar meeting in May.

Here’s the catch, according to developers: More amenities like underground parking and retail, which bring added costs to the builder and a slow return, will likely require more units. One of the proposals includes 178 units, mostly one- and two-bedroom apartments aimed at young professionals, empty nesters and graduate students. That number could drop if the building includes condos for purchase.

“We don’t want to focus too much on families or undergraduates,” said Blaik.

Some residents at last month’s meeting raised concerns about the potential pressure of the project on enrollment at the Penn Alexander School, which instituted an admissions lottery this year.

The type of retail located at the site was also an important concern for residents last night. Most agreed that large commercial chains, like Walgreen’s or 7-Eleven, would be out of place in the area. Several suggested a large restaurant, others suggested a fitness center that would offer memberships to community residents. The plans include 8,000 square feet of space. For comparison, the new Mariposa building’s retail floor space is about 5,000 square feet.

But, again, there is a trade-off here. Bringing in a locally owned or small business versus a chain that could easily secure credit brings risk to the building owner. That risk, according to Blaik, will likely be covered by more (or more expensive) residential units.

The next meeting will be in July, when more detailed plans will be unveiled.

Community members can provide input on the plans on a forum at (click on “Community”) where developers will be available to answer questions.

Mike Lyons

Baltimore Avenue

One potential plan includes a 5-story section near the corner of 43rd and Baltimore and a section further up Baltimore Ave. The building entrance would be along Baltimore Ave. “Massing” refers to the general shape of the building, including the number of floors.



28 Comments For This Post

  1. Bill Hangley Says:

    Remember: the more parking spots they build, the more drivers will move in, and the more auto traffic comes to the neighborhood. The fewer spots they offer, the fewer car owners move in, because car owners want parking.

    What’s more, it seems clear that the more parking spots they build (esp. the underground variety), the greater their incentive to bring in the kind of high-rent, low-risk business that can cover the (surely astronomical) cost. I’m sure the developers see advantages to this model – guaranteed underground parking allows them to charge higher rents.

    SO … seems clear that if you want more drivers, more cars in the neighborhood, more on-street parking headaches, a big curb-cut footprint someplace that leads into the parking garage, and a high-volume national chain business as the tenant (which would surely get some of the parking spots, and attract customers who themselves need parking), support the underground parking model.

  2. GoldenMonkey Says:

    I want less parking, less business, less tax dollars, and less school funding.

    Sounds like we’re on the same page!

  3. Strongforu Says:

    I think that the parkside units should be 3-stories tall like current housing, and the Baltimore Ave. units should be 5-stories tall like existing nearby buildings. There should not be a precedent set for a 9-story building in this community! Ever!

  4. soren Says:

    I was at this meeting last night and it was quite a rhetorical stunt to behold. While, I am not a homeowner in the neighborhood ( I will not be able to afford to buy a house in this city anytime soon), I have lived here for almost a decade. What I saw last night was disturbing. It seems that the Spruce Hill Homeowners Association are selling out their own concerns regarding the potential disruptive aspects of this project by agreeing to allow for more units in exchange for underground parking and retail.
    While, like most of those in my generation, I cannot afford to be a homeowner, it seems odd to me that so many of the neighborhood’s homeowners would rather see a Radian-like monstrosity dedicated to condos (with up to 11 floors!)on clark park instead of a simple four story apartment rental building with no parking or retail.
    By listening to the rhetoric from last night, it seems obvious that these homeowners are not going to get their fantasy, which would be a condo-only building-and the notion that a development can and should “deter” certain undesirable renters (families, undergrads, etc.) seems a bit ridiculous and even, dare I say, a bit immature-even though I can empathize with the reasons for doing so.
    It is obvious that the developers want the Spruce Hill Association to give them the “green light” (even if this “green light” is not required anyway) to build a more audacious project. But does this neighborhood really need a 180-unit “Radian-esque” statement of architectural brutality, which would look even more absurd in the mostly low-rise environs of Clark Park.. or even worse…another half-empty, half-baked Piazza?

  5. LW Says:

    Up to 11 stories? 178 units? What are they smoking? And no, this should make the original proposal look more attractive. ‘Community input’? What a bunch of manipulative cynics.

  6. matt Says:

    seriously. all they want is to put in an apartment building. by advancing a monstrosity they guarantee they get the “compromise” they want. how about a whole foods with a 20 story condo tower on top?

  7. bigred Says:

    One man’s opinion please less talk about parking and more talk on just about anything else to do with this adventure in planing. Yes parking is a important aspect to what ends up getting built, but its only one of many issues to consider.
    Here’s one that I think SHCA should look into, was the zoning that this lot was given, that in turn allows 92 units, done correctly?
    If that could be challenged then the starting point for this conversation changes BIG TIME.

  8. Mary Says:

    The Spruce Hill Community Association Zoning Committee has announced a meeting set for Wed., July 10th at 6:15PM, at the SHCA Center, 257 S. 45th St. They invite all members and neighbors to attend.

  9. Lisa Marie Says:

    WPL: when you say the owners have a “by right” permit to build a 92-unit structure, where are you getting that info from? Is that what the owners are claiming? Others have said the property is zoned RM-1, which would not allow height over 38 feet or any retail without ZBA approval, meaning they cannot build whatever they like tomorrow. Which is it?

  10. Editor Says:

    @Lisa Marie That’s a good point and one we didn’t elaborate on too much in the post. The property is currently zoned RM-1, which permits a four-story structure, 92 units, 6 parking spaces and no retail (which they could build tomorrow if they wanted to). However, zoning codes have recently been revamped and city planners have recommended a CMX 2.5 designation for that property, which would allow the types of configurations in the post. So the developers are assuming a CMX-2.5 (mixed residential commercial. I hope that helps.

    I highly recommend that you (or anyone who has technical questions) go to the “community” section at . The developers will answer questions there.
    – Mike

  11. Mary Says:

    Mike, Thanks for your column. If you don’t mind, I’d like to point out what I believe are a few inaccuracies in your report and response. The owners’ so-called “by-right” project is, in fact, just a piece of paper, with a hastily-drawn plan that is lacking in some of the most basic requirements of the new code. It is nowhere near ready to be built, certainly not tomorrow. To build this plan, the owners would have to schedule a meeting with our local RCO (SHCA), flyer the neighborhood, present their project in its final state at the SHCA meeting, report in writing to the ZBA, prepare a very detailed submission to the Civic Design Review Committee, get on the CDRC’s schedule, negotiate with the CDRC, and, finally, present their project to the ZBA for approval and the issuance of a building permit. So, construction is not imminent. Also, and most importantly, the planning department’s proposal to re-zone the lot to allow commercial is far from a done deal, requiring passage of a bill through City Council. Furthermore, it is unclear from the Planning Commssion’s draft District Plan whether they want to rezone the lot to CMX-1. CMX-2, or CMX-2.5. These have very different dimensional standards. However, NONE of those zonings permits heights over 55′ and so any of the plans the owners are pushing would still require variances. (When I asked the architect how many variances their building would need, he shrugged his shoulders and somewhat wistfully replied: “All of it”, presumably meaning none of their plans come close to complying with the zoning code). If you want to know what the typical building RM-1 zoning is intended for, take a look at the Planning Commission’s Quick Reference Guide. It also shows the typical plan/building form for the Commercial Mixed districts. I think it’s obvious from this guide that the owners’ submission for a conditional approval does not comply with RM-1 zoning and should have been denied.

  12. Editor Says:

    Thanks for the clarification Mary. I appear to have gotten a little ahead of myself.

  13. ashley Says:

    The proposal with fewer parking spaces was superior. An underground parking deck would be a disaster for the neighborhood. The cars are not just going to sit hidden in the deck all night and teleport to Penn’s Landing in in the morning. They are going to be on our streets, adding filth and congestion. 65 parking spaces means 65 more cars driving down the road that splits Clark Park and 65 more cars speeding around other cars trying to make left turns on Baltimore. More pollution. More noise. More horns blowing the moment a traffic light turns green. You can forget about the Farmer’s Market being enjoyable, because those 178 residents are going to want access to 43rd street all day, not have it clogged with vans of produce from Delaware and carts of cookies.
    There should be zero (0) parking spaces included in this project, so as to encourage people who are not addicted to cars to move into the neighborhood. People who refuse to drive make better neighbors are better for the community.

    And the more units they add, the better for everyone. If possible, they should go 70 storeys or more.

  14. Goldenmonkey Says:

    Thankfully we live in a museum where nothing ever changes.

  15. mds chill Says:

    Gosh, maybe if we’re lucky some out of town developers will tear down ALL the Victorians and put up Radian-style marvels in their place.

  16. GoldenMonkey Says:

    That’s very likely! I mean, we’re practically running out of them! They tore down the last one in…what 2008? 9? At this rate, they’ll all be gone by 2197!

  17. Bill Hangley Says:

    In seriousness – I think what you guys misunderstand about a perspective like mine, or Ashley’s, is that we’re not against people or growth. I’m all for people – bring ’em on! They’re good for business. We need big dense buildings in West Philly. Cars are another matter – the neighborhood has a legit interest in keeping their numbers in check, and the way to do that isn’t by expanding but by limiting parking.

    What’s more, the n’hood already proves that you can fill apartment buildings even without lots of parking.

  18. schmoe Says:

  19. anon Says:

    you guys should all come to the meeting to discuss this or add your comments to the 4224 website. these places seem to be the most productive in which to participate in the conversation with neighbors. there are a lot of people in the community who are interested in the fate of this project, many of them in favor. you should tell them your well-reasoned reservations.

  20. David Says:

    Agreed! Venting here on WPL isn’t going to do much good.

  21. Bill Hangley Says:

    good idea, thanks …

  22. Val Says:

    This article on ugly high rise apartments built for 20-somethings in university city should give people a sense of what these developers are planning, for they are slapping up these monstrosities all along Market and Chestnut Streets in the University City area: Note that people who are knowledgeable about architecture and city development think these high rises are neighborhood-destroyers. Also note that Penn has three high rises it wishes it could get rid of (they are eyesores) but it’s far too expensive and risky to do so. High rise apartment buildings do not belong in a neighborhood. They are antithetical to community; they jam hundreds of people into a anonymous, impersonal environment. Also note that parking spaces or no, these buildings are going to translate into many, many more cars. The magical realism of those who think that fewer parking spaces will translate into tenants with fewer cars is breathtaking. Parking spaces are not going to be a deal-breaker for drivers. They are going to imagine they’ll find parking on the street. These apartments are not going to be rented by neighborhood people or families; they’re going to be rented by young people, mainly transients, mainly from out of town, mainly car owners.

  23. Anonymous Says:

    I can count the number of people I knew at Penn who kept cars while in school on one hand. A girl from Ardmore, a guy from Jersey and the jerk from Hawaii just because he could. Am I the only person with this experience?

  24. blurb Says:

    No. Parking fears are just totems for people that don’t want any development. In most Philly neighborhoods, “parking nightmares” mean not being able to put your car literally in front of your house, and I can guarantee you that’s what most of the people complaining about parking are secretly worried about. Boo-hoo. You live in a city.

    Also: apartment buildings don’t belong in city neighborhoods? What is that other poster smoking?

  25. JP Says:

    I ship this!

  26. Val Says:

    Funny I actually live on a block with students and they all have cars, and more cars by far per household than the families on my block who typically own only one car for the entire household. Of course students who live ON CAMPUS don’t own cars: But those who move off campus typically do. Again, real life experience living in West Phil for over a decade on a block that is a mix of families and students. The basic math here is that the more UNITS there are, the more CARS there will be. The rest is just pipe dreams.

  27. GoldenMonkey Says:

    Two four story houses full of Drexel undergrads here in deep West Philly (not Powelton). Every student, all 8 per house, have cars (most are from Jersey). Keep on dreaming that someday a carless utopia will come about. In the meantime, we have to deal with the fact that people will continue to have cars in this neighborhood, parking spaces or naught.

  28. Lauren Says:

    Unfortunately, you’re right on all counts (esp. regarding parking). Urban planners that I’ve spoken to about this plan largely see it as disastrous. It’s a shame, because Spruce Hill/Cedar Park have such an awesome, unique character. I’m holding out hope that some compromises will be made before the project is built.

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