Turning Japanese on Kelly Drive

After a setback at Civic Design Review last Wednesday, what’s next for the development of the old Japanese banquet hall site on Kelly Drive?

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UPDATE: PlanPhilly’s recap of Nov 30th’s Civic Design Review.

The next step in the development of the vacant Japanese banquet hall will have to wait a little longer as the Civic Design Review (CDR) board voted last Wednesday to bring back Gary Jonas and his HOW Properties team for another review of their plan.

The CDR cited missed opportunities and lack of connection to the river as disappointments in the design renderings and suggested several improvements they hoped would be incorporated in the next round of renderings.

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In speaking with Jonas after the meeting, it was clear he was surprised at the setback and sought an immediate meeting with members of both RCOs (East Falls Forward and East Falls Community Council) as well as the East Falls Development Corporation (EFDC) to discuss changes to the building’s façade.

We’ve been impressed with Jonas’ redesign of St. Bridget’s school on Stanton into apartments as well as his willingness to engage the community personally on difficult issues such as parking.japanese-restaurant-birdseye-view-of-site

The Kelly Drive project has been no different as Jonas has made several appearances at both East Falls Forward (EFF) and East Falls Community Council (EFCC) meetings to take questions and explain his ideas for the site.

That’s why we were a bit puzzled after the CDR review. He might have been surprised to hear criticism of the design at that meeting, but it wasn’t the first time members of our community have said it.

In fact at the September EFF meeting, where he received much praise for his plan, it was made clear that more work was needed on the facade for such an important site on the Falls waterfront.

Carolyn Sutton and Gina Snyder, of the EFDC’s Design Committee, have also insisted on a more distinctive design for a site “that is a gateway to our community and a prime location on our waterfront.”japanese-restaurant-north-on-kelly

Jonas himself has acknowledged (as recently as the EFF meeting) the need for more tweaks and has promised to continue working with the community over the next year to make sure we all get a building we’ll be happy with.

The next step in that process is tonight when members of EFF, EFCC, and the EFDC will meet privately with Jonas and his team to discuss design improvements in advance of a community zoning meeting on Wednesday October 19 at Downs Hall on the PhilaU campus.

Hopefully those two meetings will result in a positive review at the next CDR session, tentatively scheduled for November, and a landmark design on our waterfront.

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More site renderings here.

Questions and Critiques
What are the issues with the current design? What questions are being asked? Here’s a sampling of comments from two members of East Falls Forward’s design team:

Lindsay Bodin
BIO: Lindsay is a project/property manager at AthenianRazak. She has over six years of experience in the construction industry with a Bachelor of Architecture from Philadelphia University. Previously, she worked in New York City as a building code/zoning consultant maneuvering construction projects through governmental permitting. She has worked on both small residences and towering skyscrapers. In addition to being a new involved neighbor in the East Falls, Lindsay passionately contributes her time to Friends of the Rail Park and DesignPhiladelphia.

  • The variety of blooming flora is positive and consistent with the plantings throughout the community.
  • Most of the site appears to be grass other than the perimeter of the building.
  • Does the owner have plans to maintain this with irrigation?
  • Recommend that the owner consider a ground cover that is more drought resistant than grass/sod and would contribute to the stormwater management of the site.
  • Recommend that when owner demolishes the existing Kelly Drive sidewalk that they consider setting it a few more feet into the site. Plantings could be added between the sidewalk and street to:

– be a form of stormwater management,

– protect pedestrians and bikers from car traffic,

– prevent jay-walking to the river,

– create a small barrier from the open space on site to the car traffic,

– minimize runoff and rainwater flooding the street from sloped site.

  • Recommend that owner consider keeping the old growth trees on site and protecting the trees during construction. It appears that most of the older trees on site are covered by the building footprint and this may not be possible.These type of trees are a consistent fabric in the East Falls community that is distinct and unique to this area of the city. It is part of the charm to this area. Additionally, the old growth trees provide numerous environmental benefits.
  • The building’s Kelly Drive side reads as the back-side of the building. With the bike path and parking lot directly across the street, it causes this facade to be more populated than the Ridge Ave side.
  • Recommend that owner/architect consider how tenants would access the river and trail for recreational or non-vehicular commuting.
  • Bike parking racks should be provided on site for public use, especially for those visiting tenants.
  • Architectural style is out of context with the East Falls vernacular and should not attempt to mimic the style of the East Rivers Bank building down the street.
  • The bank building and small generic development behind is a suburban character that could be and is duplicated across the county. It is a bizarre injection into the urban landscape of this neighborhood and does not convey “East Falls” upon arrival over the East Falls bridge. It could be anywhere rather than here.
  • Materiality or color seems to speak to an East Falls vernacular, context, or history.
  • Layout locates commercial storefront closer to the highway entrance/exit rather than the side closer to the East Falls Ridge Avenue commercial corridor. Would recommend looking at pedestrian access/experience from commercial corridor.

Eric Weiss
BIO: Eric has been practicing architecture in a Philadelphia based multi-disciplinary design firm since 2013, serving as both a designer and photographer for projects in a variety of market sectors.

The biggest hang up for me with the design is the fact that they haven’t acknowledged the building’s place as a gateway piece into East Falls. The treatment of the south and west facades create the least engaging elevation of the whole building at the most prominent location as seen from Kelly Drive.

The rendering shown traveling east on Kelly Dr. (below) illustrates how imposing the south and west elevations will appear to motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, where the north elevation appears to respond more appropriately to the site surroundings.japanese-restaurant-east-on-kelly

The Ridge Ave. elevation (below) shows a building that, while still relatively uninspiring, attempts to be more animated and engaging with the street level. An important move for the design, at the very least, would be to continue that same language around to the south and west facades.japanese-restaurant-east-on-ridge

 

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