During their slideshow last Wednesday for Spring Garden residents, developers of the proposed condo tower that could replace the Franklin House decided to juxtapose the skyscraping building with Center City’s skyline to show its height.
Out of the hundreds of people who crammed into Highway Tabernacle Church on 18th and Spring Garden streets, most decried the 47-story building that could shoot out of their relatively low-rise neighborhood. Some especially seemed to hate how it sized up to Center City.
A few rows from the back of the church an elderly woman recoiled, covered her mouth with her hand and gasped. “It’s like a monster,” she whispered when the image of the tower flickered onto the screen.
The hulking tower, slated to rise 500 feet, 8 inches, would rival City Hall. It would include 274 luxury units, a lobby and a penthouse. It would allow room for 291 parking spaces, all underground. Its mammoth footprint would extend 500,000 square feet. Its shadows would blanket surrounding townhouses.
And that’s only Phase I.
The second building, which is not designed, could add another 90 units or so to 501 N. 22d St., developers said. That’s where the modest, ’60s-era Best Western Center City Hotel now houses more than 160 Temple students.
The woman, like many who condemned the developers and their lawyer during last week’s meeting, is right. The condo tower is a monster that threatens their neighborhood.
But what’s more pernicious than slabs of concrete is the way Best Western executives chose to sidestep public discussion when developing their plan.
They apparently posted a small sheet of paper on the hotel as notification that the tower was approved by the Department of Licenses and Inspections. Then they went on with their plans, their studies and their slideshow presentations, unbeknown to the many residents.
Not once, according to the neighborhood groups that organized the emergency meeting, did developers come to residents and ask if slapping together a 47-story tower in their backyard was a good idea. Not once, according to state Sen. Vincent J. Fumo and city Councilman Darrell L. Clarke, did the developers approach lawmakers to discuss the plan.
Clarke during the meeting told developers that he is typically a business friendly and developer friendly councilperson. Surely, most Spring Garden residents also are supportive of new projects that could benefit their community.
It’s not that those residents who gasped at the huge tower completely oppose the project. What they’re upset about is their lack of input.
They’re wondering why they weren’t asked if 30 stories might be better than almost 50.
Or if the green space surrounding the tower should be open to the public rather than fenced off to its inhabitants.
Spring Gardeners aren’t afraid of skyscrapers; they’re afraid of monsters. It’s too bad that, with the help of wily lawyers, this large and frightening monster could soon be all too real.