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October 12, 2016

Philadelphia mayor: City can't halt Jewelers Row demolition project

Business Development
Jewelers row Sept 17 Hayden Mitman/PhillyVoice

The Jewelers Row structures that could be made part of the Philadelphia Historic Register: 704 and 706-08 Sansom Street, as seen last week. Windows in 704 Sansom Street host signs for an online petition protesting their proposed demolition.

Mayor Jim Kenney says he shares the frustration of the Philadelphians seeking to preserve five historic rowhomes on Jewelers Row. But he says there is little the city can do little to prevent a suburban developer from proceeding with a condominium project.

Toll Brothers, based in Horsham, Montgomery County, plans to demolish five properties along the 700 block of Sansom Street, affectionately known as Jewelers Row for the string of jewelry shops lining the street. A 16-story residential complex is slated to replace the buildings, which currently stand three or four stories.

“I share the frustration of the Philadelphians who have called out in recent weeks for historical protection of Jewelers Row," Kenney said in a statement released early Wednesday morning. "Regrettably, we have reviewed the current law at length, and the developer has proceeded in accordance with City Code."

Kenney said he spoke with Toll Brothers representatives, urging them to "go above and beyond what the law requires" to preserve the buildings' historic nature.

"I strongly requested that they preserve the buildings' second and third floor facades, and I would also ask that they adopt the recommendations of the Civic Design Review Board," Kenney said. "They have 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."

Toll Brothers previously said it intends to respect the historic feel of Jewelers Row, which dates back to the 19th century. The developer plans to maintain the existing cornice line of Sansom Street while retaining retail space at street level.

But the project has prompted greater concerns about the city's ability to preserve its historic buildings.

The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia has fought hard to preserve the block, to no avail. The city's zoning board denied an appeal submitted by the advocacy group last week. A separate petition submitted to the Philadelphia Historic Register will be heard later this month.

“Moving forward, there is no question that we have to increase resources to protect Philadelphia's historic buildings," Kenney said. "We expect to introduce legislation on that matter in the coming weeks."