Church Lane project denied by Historical Commission

by Tom Beck
Posted 3/14/24

Despite modifications, the Philadelphia Historical Commission unanimously denied a proposal to build a five-story building in the heart of Germantown.

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Church Lane project denied by Historical Commission


Despite reducing the building height and giving the community final say on the color of the brick, the Philadelphia Historical Commission unanimously denied Olympia Holdings’ proposal to build a five-story building with 33 units on the site of a parking lot at 26-34 Church Lane, right in the heart of Germantown. The lot is included in the Germantown Urban Village Historic District, which was unanimously designated to the city’s Register of Historic Places last month. 

PHC Chair Bob Thomas and other members of the commission said during the meeting, however, that their main concern was the proposal’s size and massing, which wasn’t addressed by the development team during its redesign from the previous meeting.

“It's the scale of the building that's the primary concern at this point given that Church Lane is quite a narrow road and the buildings on the other side are all two and three story houses,” said Dan McCoubrey, a member of the commission. “We have that issue where zoning allows perhaps more mass than might be deemed appropriate for a historic district.”

McCoubrey said that a four story building would be more appropriate for the district, massing-wise.

Residents agreed.

“We've already been overrun with massive development like this,” said West Central Germantown Neighbors president Suzanne Ponsen. “I really do hope that the commission agrees with the decision made by the architectural design committee. Have them go back to the drawing board and lob off another floor on the top, and I think it could possibly be a done deal.”

Germantown resident Greg Paulmier said he was frustrated with developers' refusal to reduce the size of the building, which he said was solely for financial gain.

“The only reason [the proposal is] the size that it is is because of profit,” he said. “It's unfortunate that profit rules how large this building is rather than the character of probably one of the most historic areas of the country.”

Olympia representative Eli Kantrovitz said at a previous Historical Commission meeting that the project would no longer be profitable if the building was made smaller. However he also noted at the time that while Olympia typically builds more “modern” buildings, his company opted for a completely different design for 26-34 Church Lane in an effort to make it better fit Germantown’s historic context.

“[We’re] trying to work with you to match the design to… a more traditional style rather than a modern style,” he said. “That costs us much more.”

The highlight of the historic district is Market Square, which has served as a central open space for the community for more than a century and is the heart of Germantown’s commercial center. It’s located just half a block from Olympia’s proposal.

Market Square, first created in 1703 to include a pound and a log prison in the southeast corner, is now home to the Soldiers Monument, which was erected in 1883 to commemorate Union Civil War soldiers. It sits on a pedestal made from Gettysburg granite and is surrounded by a fence constructed out of musket barrels and bayonets. It is encircled by the historic Deshler-Morris House, German Reformed Church, and Fromberger-Harkness House, which is the current site of Historic Germantown.