By Anita Oh
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There is a new wrinkle in the battle over a controversial condo project on Jewelers’ Row. The latest fight is over the design of the two-faced building as some are urging the developers to go back to the drawing board.
The country’s oldest diamond district could be getting a major face lift, but for some owners there, that isn’t a welcomed change.
Handmade signs in the area show the desperation to save Jewelers’ Row.
For Frank Schaffer, cutting gems is an art form, but if Toll Brothers plan to build a luxury condo tower on Jewelers’ Row moves forward, Schaeffer will be forced to cut his loses instead.
Schaffer tells Eyewitness News that he feels like he’s getting pushed out. His store, FCS Gems, is one of several properties on the 700 block of Sansom Street that would likely be demolished under the proposal.
“Jewelers’ Row will cease to exist,” Schaffer said. Toll Brothers initially pitched a 16-story building, but their new proposal features a 29-story tower with two faces. One will be on Jewelers’ Row and the other overlooking Washington Square West.
“It is a stupid idea,” Schaffer said. “It’s always been. It’s only benefiting several people.”
In an effort to halt the process, The Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia nominated three of the impacted properties to the city’s registry of historic places.
The Philadelphia Historic Commission could make a decision on Friday. Executive Director of the Preservation Alliance Paul Steinke says the condo building could change the character of the street. “What we object to is the destruction of occupied, successful, tax paying buildings, especially on an iconic retail street like Jewelers’ Row, just to build another condominium tower.”
In a statement to Eyewitness News, a Toll Brothers spokesperson wrote in part:
“Many of the current land and business owners located on Sansom Street, as well as the Jewelers’ Row Association, are pleased with Toll Brothers’ commitments to preserving and rejuvenating the street, and considerable interest exists in the new retail space that we will create. We have also already identified nearby commercial space for any tenants who may be displaced.”
The city’s Licenses and Inspections Department did approve a demolition permit and one for the original 16-story building. They are still considering one for the 29 story tower.