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December 05, 2016

Developer behind controversial Jewelers Row project seeks bigger tower

Development Jewelers Row
Stock_Carroll - Jewelers Row Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Buildings on south side of Jewelers Row that may be subject to demolition due to an impending development, Oct. 21, 2016.

The suburban developer behind a controversial project set to demolish five properties along Philadelphia's storied Jewelers Row now says it intends to obtain approval to construct a much taller building than originally anticipated.

Toll Brothers, Inc., based in Horsham, released a statement Monday indicating that it aims to expand its proposed 16-story condo tower to 29 stories, according to CBS 3.

“Based on new agreements of sale, Toll Brothers City Living has filed an amendment to our zoning application that would increase the height of the Washington Square project from 16 to 29 stories, bringing the total number of units available from 80 to 109. This density is permitted within the current zoning for the site, as well as it being in character for other developments within the Washington Square area. We remain committed to retaining retail space targeted for jewelry stores along Sansom Street to preserve the iconic Jewelers Row streetscape while rejuvenating it for the future.”

Considered the oldest diamond district in the United States, took form in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a cultural and economic locale for craft merchants and gold sellers. It still employs as many as 300 people at more than 30 businesses clustered on and around Sansom Street, between 7th and 8th streets

When Toll Brothers announced its plans last summer, the threat to Jewelers Row ignited a fierce backlash, spurring a grassroots campaign to protect the endangered rowhomes with designations from the Philadelphia Historical Commission.

Despite the unanimous nominations of two rowhomes to the city's Register of Historic Places, the preservationists' efforts ultimately fell short. One day before the Historical Commission decided not to act on those properties, the Department of Licenses and Inspections issued Toll Brothers a demolition permit for the contested properties.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has said that while he shares the frustration of residents opposed to the project, the city has no recourse to halt new development along the 700 block of Sansom Street.

"Regrettably, we have reviewed the current law at length, and the developer has proceeded in accordance with City Code," Kenney said in October. "(Toll Brothers has) given me and Councilman (Mark) Squilla their word that they are committed to maintaining Jewelers Row as a historic, cultural gem for future generations of Philadelphians to enjoy."