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Toll Brothers Angers CDR With Final Jewelers Row Tower Proposal, Walkout

A rendering of Toll Brothers' high-rise on Philadelphia's Jewelers Row

Toll Brothers' Jewelers Row tower has completed the Civic Design Review process in just about as contentious a fashion as possible.

The 24-story tower, to be developed by the homebuilder's Toll Brothers City Living arm and designed by SLCE Architects, returned to CDR Tuesday after the advisory committee severely criticized the intial design during the first hearing. But as CDR Chairwoman Nancy Rogo Trainer gave her final remarks, which criticized the project as out of scale with its surroundings, representatives of Toll Brothers began exiting the room, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

After Trainer called the move a sign of "total disrespect for the committee," Toll Brothers lawyer Carl Primavera brought his colleagues back to hear the rest of her statements. It was just the latest moment of conflict in a planning process that has seen Toll Brothers butt heads with Jewelers Row businesses, preservationists, the CDR and even Mayor Jim Kenney.

The first CDR meeting for the project, at 702-710 Sansom St., saw the committee criticize the monotonous, glassy exterior and the out-of-place brick facades on street level meant to fit in with the old buildings on either side. The CDR asked Toll Brothers to preserve the original facades of the buildings it plans to demolish, but the revised proposal instead replaced the facades with more glass.

Architect Cecil Baker, who serves on the committee, once again took the developer to task over the design for its lack of distinguishing features, saying the building should "look like a jewel" to philosophically fit the historic businesses around it, according to the Inquirer. Though many of those properties are historically protected, 702-710 Sansom had no such protections.

Jewelers Row in Philadelphia

The CDR does not have the power to veto any designs, and the proposed tower does not require zoning variances, but one obstacle still remains before Toll Brothers can swing the wrecking ball: a legal challenge from the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, which is open in the city's Court of Common Pleas.

The case hinges on whether the buildings in question should have been historically protected, and a decision is expected soon, according to the Inquirer.

Until then, Toll Brothers will wait, although founder and former Chairman Bruce Toll told Bisnow he expects the building to "get permission sooner or later." Toll left the company in 2016 to focus on his company BET Investments, where he is principal.

“I think [the pushback] is ridiculous," Toll said. "These buildings aren’t historic, I’ve been in them. I think it’s a great asset to the community and the city, and it will be very successful when it gets built. If I had thought of it first, I would have bought [the lots] before Toll Brothers.”