400 N. Columbus Blvd. has all the potential in the world. It's huge, spanning about five and a half acres. It's right on the Delaware waterfront. It's easily accessible from both Old City and Northern Liberties. But for as long as we can remember, it's been sitting half vacant, with the other half occupied by a storage facility that would be much better if it was someplace else. So... what's the deal here?
You may not remember, but this property was slated for development as World Trade Square, a massive mixed-use development that would have meant four enormous buildings with a mix of apartments and office space and over 2,000 parking spots to boot. That project was in the works for years before a City Council ordinance restricting height on the waterfront combined with the 2008 economic downturn submarined the project.
William Penn was really on to something when he laid out Philadelphia on a grid, as it makes navigating our town incredibly easy for residents and tourists alike. Even when you throw in the occasional Passyunk Avenue, it's pretty tough to get lost in the core of our predictable city. One thing about those diagonal streets though, is that they occasionally create some unusual triangular pieces of real estate when they come very close to intersections. And we've seen a variety of uses for those triangles, like public space at 23rd, South, & Grays Ferry, or residential use at 6th, Catharine, & Passyunk, or retail at 21st, Reed, & Point Breeze. Well, the last use is theoretical in nature, as the building at 2101 Reed St. was used as a check cashing place for a number of years but has been sitting vacant for quite some time.
Perhaps you've wondered why residential projects tend to look so similar to each other from year to year and neighborhood to neighborhood. Maybe you think it's laziness from the small pool of architects in town. Or perhaps you place it at the feet of the developers, who are just trying to make a few extra bucks. Both of those reasons are plausible, but we'd suggest that the market also plays a role here. Many buyers are looking for something that resembles another property that they've seen and liked, and some will push back against new and different designs. That disincentivizes many developers from pushing the envelope, and is another reason why we see so many new homes that look almost identical around town. On the 1000 block of S. Dorrance St. though, it's a little on the nose.
1000 block of S. Dorrance St.
Thankfully, that design fell out of favor about half a decade ago and we hardly see any new construction with stucco bays anymore. Stucco has been replaced by cement board and metal panels on bay windows, which you would probably agree is a step in the right direction. A fine example of this can be found at 2337 Emerald St., a new home that recently sold for $365K.
We were drawn to the 4th & Queen intersection recently, thanks to a reader wondering about a zoning notice on the southeast corner. This building was renovated a few years back, along with a number of buildings to the south. That renovation included the closing of Queen Village Pizza and the opening of the vastly superior Little Italy 2 Pizza. Considering that there was a bunch of work done here so recently, we were confused about what was happening.
Southeast corner of 4th & Queen
To be honest, we're still a bit confused. The zoning application seeks to redraw lot lines between the corner building and the three addresses to the south on 4th Street. The owners are looking to do a little demolition and build some new additions which may or may not entail a new building on the parcel to the south of the pizza place. At the end of the day, this zoning application won't make much of a difference in anybody's life from what we can tell, assuming it's even approved by the ZBA.
We've been at this awhile, and we sometimes find ourselves considering some material for a potential post and spending a few minutes trying to remember whether we already covered it at some point. Such was the case with a property at the southeast corner of 5th & Master, where we recently spied a banner promoting an upcoming project. We had a nagging feeling that we'd written about this property before, but we snapped the photos anyway, just in case.
Current view at 5th & Master
After digging through the archives, we realized that we have indeed covered this property in the past. A little over a year ago, we told you that developers were planning to demolish the existing structures here and replace them with a mixed-use project with 31 apartments, retail space, and a dozen parking spots. We expressed some skepticism about the plan, as the 6,700 sqft parcel didn't seem to have enough size to accommodate both the desired number of parking spaces along with a retail space with any sort of worthwhile size. Perhaps the developers saw things the same way, or maybe they didn't see a path at the ZBA, because they withdrew their proposal last summer.
Their new plan is to build seven homes with parking here, a plan that was approved by the ZBA last fall. That aforementioned banner on the property gives us an idea of what's to come, and we're thinking these will be some big and fancy homes. Also per the banner, the developers are calling the project North Point, which clearly makes the project 22% fancier.