The sprawling former Gretz Brewery stands as a hunkering symbol of industrial blight. The impressive red brick structure went vacant almost 60 years ago and Kensington residents have worried for years about losing the crumbling historic building to neglect. Now some of these same residents want a better design to guide the former factory’s residential rebirth, as developer Tony Rufo moves forward with plans for the site.
Marco Gorini of the South Kensington Community Partners said his organization supports the project but the residents represented by the group fear that new additions to the historic brewery are too high and too dense. He said that there are too many apartments and not enough parking. The latest plans for the five-story brewery include 220 apartments, five retail storefronts and 42 parking spots, recently reduced by the developer from 47.
“Considering the historical nature of this building we understand there are constraints on how much parking can be provided on site,” said Gorini at a Civic Design Review hearing on Tuesday. “That being said with 220 units, at the bare minimum we would not want to see that reduction in parking.”
The City Planning Commission’s review panel of architects, planners, and real estate industry heavyweights echoed neighborhood excitement about reuse of the historic brewery, a recent addition to the local historic register. But they also shared concerns about density.
The CDR committee asked the development team to return for a second consideration, which is the only power the body enjoys.
Architect Cecil Baker, a member of the city design board, said 220 units seems like too much for the Germantown Avenue site. He expressed particular reservation at the number of micro-apartments, some as small as 450 square feet, planned for the historic buildings. The units don’t include windows in the bedrooms.
“Who rents units without windows in bedrooms,” asked Baker. “Student units perhaps? I don’t know that’s a population where you want 200 units...it worries me that this will feel like a warren of small rooms.”
“I agree that these units are not clearly worked out yet,” said project architect Anthony Tsirantonakis of T+ Associates. “The density is a tough thing. You know how much it costs to renovate a historic building and you know what we are going to have to spend. It's going to cost a fortune.”
The project requires five use and zoning variances, because it is taller, denser, and more residential than the area’s current zoning allows.
Baker said that in Washington Square West, where he lives, neighbors organize for concessions when developers come seeking variances. The density seemed like an obvious area for negotiation.
“If this developer came to my community I too would be arguing that this is too dense,” said Baker.
The project is also slated to include three car share spots and 82 bike parking spots. The Gretz Brewery is less than a mile from the Girard and Berks stations on the Market-Frankford line. It is also close to several bus lines and the Route 15 trolley.
Tsirantonakis told the design board that many aspects of the project are still unsettled. An eight-story building included in plans has been sheared to seven floors in response to community concerns,he said.
He also said that the number of units, their layout, and their sizes could be altered as well. A green wall seen in the design is not a sure thing either.
The project could return to the Civic Design Review board as soon as next month. The Philadelphia Historical Commission will also hold a public hearing.