The Design Commission has upheld the approval of the Central Lofts, against an appeal by the St Johns Neighborhood Association. The four story building, designed by Jones Architecture for owner Farid Bolour, will include 30 residential units over ground floor retail. The building will include 37 long-term bicycle parking stalls. No vehicular parking is proposed.
The Central Lofts will be built on a 6,750 sq ft site at 8608 N Lombard St, facing the St Johns Plaza. The site was once home to the three story Central Hotel, the top two floors of which burned down in the 1920s. The facade seen today dates back to the 1970s. From 2012 to the 2015 the building was home to a bar named the Central Hotel.
The building will be constructed out of heavy timber, with cross-laminated timber floors. The structural system was chosen in part due to the speed at which it can erected, which will minimize the length of disruption to the St Johns Plaza.
Exterior materials proposed include Cembrit fiber cement rainscreen cladding; curtain wall glazing and metal panels at the projecting oriel windows; aluminum storefronts surrounded by wood cladding with a charcoal stain; and painted steel canopies.
The Central Lofts were approved in a staff level decision on October 18th, 2017. The project was subsequently appealed by the St Johns Neighborhood Association, who raised concerns about the location of the main retail entrance; the use of fiber cement panels; and the degree to which the building responded to the context of the neighborhood.
On December 14th 2017 the Design Commission voted 4-0 to deny the appeal and uphold the approval. In the conclusion to their Final Findings, Conclusions and Decision the Commission found that the building will enhance the “unique and special civic plaza”:
The proposal sufficiently addresses its adjacent commercial context through the incorporation of extensive ground floor glazing, numerous retail entrances, deep canopies, ground-level material detailing and pedestrian-scale lighting. It addresses its unique and special civic plaza location through a unique fully-operable corner glazing element that allows the entire ground floor plaza corner to be opened, revealing a 38’ wide entrance. It addresses its two street frontages by surpassing the maximum ground floor glazing requirement on North Lombard Street, and achieving more than twice the required ground floor glazing required on North Philadelphia. Further, it brings glazing around to the ground level of the alley, enhancing the view from the St. Johns bridge and activating an otherwise underutilized public right-of-way.
The primary concerns of the appellant and public testifiers were the scale of glazing on upper floors, the cementitious cladding material and the lack of differentiation between ground floor entrances. The Design Commission noted the very specific description in P1: Plan Area Character that directs new development on commercial streets in St. Johns to focus on activation of the public realm through outdoor seating, ground floor storefronts and integration with the public realm. The Commission determined that this proposal had met all the desired Plan Area characteristics as well as all relevant Community Design Guidelines, and therefore warranted approval.
Building permits for the Central Lofts are under review.