Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Werthan Packaging Mixed Use concept unveiled at community meeting

The site plan

SWH Residential Partners, Smith Gee Studio and Reno & Cavanaugh met with dozens of interested Salemtown and Germantown denizens at Morgan Park earlier tonight to introduce their proposal for the Werthan Packaging Plant property on 5th Avenue bordering the two neighborhoods.

The proposal includes an approximately 280-unit apartment complex (studio, 1 BR, 2BR; averaging 800 sq ft per unit) replacing the 1950s-style warehouse at 5th and Hume. It will also include retail space in a historic building at 5th and Taylor that developers hope will attract clients like the Turnip Truck market or a neighborhood pub. The Werthan Company will shrink to a smaller building farther away from 5th Avenue. The residential units of the main building will also clad a central parking garage for tenants and their guests. A green space will be installed along Hume that could be fit for townhouses farther out in the future.

Avenue elevation

The concept includes a dog park on the green space, a "European-style", pedestrian-oriented plaza with a water fountain on 5th, a sculpture garden with a water feature and small courtyards along Hume. Apartments along 5th will rise to an "industrial" 4 stories, with stoops to convey a "neighborhood-feel". As the building stretches toward Hume, the profile will drop to 3 stories with terraces to integrate with the smaller scale of Salemtown. Common spaces beyond the plaza would include a designated terrace for gatherings that developers told the group would be available for community meetings.

The part of the concept that made me sit up and take notice was a planned extension of 6th Avenue across Hume onto the Werthan property intended to shift large truck traffic serving the packaging plant out of the neighborhood and funnel it from Rosa Parks Boulevard to Hume and then to 6th inside the complex. In a few years when the plant moves totally off the property, the new 6th Avenue could be extended all the way to Taylor.

The apartments

Attorney David Kleinfelter emphasized to the group that the design had to be inspired by the internal design of the Werthan property itself and that developers took their cues from Werthan Lofts on Rosa Parks. Hunter Gee added that the project was also intended to weave or knit Salemtown and Germantown neighborhoods together. John Tirrill commented that the complex was intended to be marketed to various age groups and that they were not interested in merely pulling in party-oriented young people.

The meeting lasted a long time, but afterwards I told the development team that while I am not wild about apartments, I am a realist about what banks require in these times. I emphasized to them that I could support this concept if no drastic changes were made. What is particularly attractive to me about it is that they intentionally focused on street traffic and have what appears to me to be an effective strategy for limiting large truck traffic on our smaller streets. Extending 6th is an impressive solution because it creates residence fronts in the complex on four sides and it efficiently moves commercial traffic away from Salemtown. I did suggest to the team that converting the intersection of 5th and Hume to a 4-way stop (currently a 2-way stop that facilitates truck traffic) would compliment their transportation plan.

Hume elevation

Putting up more stop signs along 5th would also serve their goal to make the avenue more pedestrian-friendly. In my opinion, a number of people here support repurposing 5th away from an automobile pass-through avenue, making it more of a complete street. In turn, that would make Morgan Park across the avenue even more accessible.

I don't have a problem with the scale because Werthan is already industrial and it sits on the border of two smaller-scale residential areas. Their claim that the scale will integrate into the style of both neighborhoods seems convincing to me. If they pull off a tenant for their retail building on Taylor like the Turnip Truck or a pub a coffee house/cafe it would be a coup. But building high-density residential along 5th increases the chances of attracting businesses. There is still the gnawing fact that demand for retail space seems to be shrinking rather than moving in Germantown (excepting a few stalwarts like Germantown Cafe and newcomer Silo). Hopefully, the dog park will relieve Morgan Park of the crush of higher density dog owners who treat it almost exclusively as the place to take their pups for a poop.

Talking over the context

If the developers are indeed serious about the integration with the community, their commitment to providing public access to the plaza and meeting areas, smarter growth and sustainability, I can easily support this concept (unless, of course, it undergoes substantial changes unannounced earlier tonight). They effectively and assertively addressed any concerns I had about development of the Werthan site, which sits but a stone's throw from our home. I do not see any reason to oppose it.

1 comment:

  1. This looks like a great addition to the area. I own in the Werthan Lofts, phase 3. So my window looks right out on Hume at the empty lot. The idea of increased traffic up Hume is a bit of a concern but balanced against the idea of seeing the area behind us turned into something usable I can live with it.