Another Zoning Code Fail, This Time on Taney Street in Brewerytown

From the early 1800s through the beginning of the 20th century, most of Philadelphia’s drinking water was pumped out of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers and stored in reservoirs scattered around the city. In the earliest years, a water pumping station was located in Centre Square, spreading water through the growing city via gravity. The opening of the Fairmount Water Works in 1815 cleared the path for something new at Centre Square, a somewhat famous building that’s still around today out of which our city government still operates.

But we digress, we’re really interested in reservoirs at the moment, specifically the Spring Garden Reservoir, which was located just north of Girard College, in the Brewerytown neighborhood. This reservoir filled about 2/3 of a city block and was actually on the smaller side, compared to other reservoirs in the area. The Corinthian Avenue Basin was maybe 1.5 times the size. The Fairmount Basin, located at the modern site of the Art Museum, was probably twice the size. And the East Park Basin, part of which still exists, was at least ten times the size. As was the case with many reservoirs of the day, when the Spring Garden Reservoir was eventually retired, its vacated space was filled in with homes.

Map from 1895 showing the reservoir

The 1300 block of Taney was constructed all at once, in 1925, on the western edge of the property that was previously the Spring Garden Reservoir. Perhaps because the homes are newer than many in the neighborhoods around Center City, the block has remained impressively intact despite decades of disinvestment in the neighborhood. That’s not to say that the architecture of the homes is anything to write home about, but there’s still something somehow comforting about the repeating home design on the block, with two story structures, front porches, and 2nd story bays.

Looking up Taney Street
Slowly moving up the street

For years, only 1332 N. Taney St. sat vacant, owned for a spell by the City before eventually ending up in the hands of developers. Those developers are now building a new home at this address, which will unfortunately stick out like a sore thumb from the other homes on the block. Take a look:

There's the new home
Ooof

The culprit here, as we’ve seen on countless other occasions, is the requirement that the Zoning Code imposes on developers building three story homes on two story blocks to set the third story back by eight feet. The code doesn’t require developers to maintain the cornice line on the block, just for the height of the new building to remain under 38′. In this case, the developers are building a new three story home by right, setting back the third floor and raising the height of the second floor to make the home more attractive to buyers. Several times, we’ve recommended amending the code to allow 3rd floor construction all the way to the front of the property line on two story blocks, with the requirement that developers maintain the cornice line and use a mansard roof on the 3rd floor. If that were the case, the result at 1332 N. Taney St. would fit in much better with its neighbors. Alas, until this common sense change gets implemented, we’re going to keep seeing new homes interrupting the rhythm of blocks all over town.

  • Karig2

    Just look at the block…boring, full of front porches that have been walled in. This is an improvement and adds a modicum of interest to an otherwise ordinary and mediocre streetscape. More Philadelphia streets need some variety of this type. I find it rather odd that OCF, of all people, would oppose it or find it worth commenting on in a negative way.

    • Jake

      The vast majority of the homes in these photos are not walled in, not sure what you’re looking at.

      Furthermore, the new construction has no modicum of interest, it’s a standard spec sponge bob square bay with an entrance approaching 2nd story height. There really isn’t anything interesting about this vanilla box contractor special.

      • Karig2

        True, but I can almost guarantee you that this neighborhood does not yet warrant the expense of having high style, architect designed living quarters. The return just isn’t there to justify it. Take a drive up there and take a look…very few of them are truly all original. At least this new one is, for that street anyway.

        • Jake

          I know this area well, this is where my first home was. I also delivered a ground-up next construction net-zero energy ready duplex designed by a well-regarded local architect just a couple blocks away. The market can support good design and the price for thoughtful design versus ill-considered design is negligible.

    • DanS

      That’s insane. The fact that all of these homes have the same level of porch (most of them not walled-in) is what makes the block what it is. The newcomers that fill this home will always be outsiders because of their home. They’ll always be the rich people that moved into the block, not just new members. And it’s all because of how it looks completely out of place compared to its surroundings. I agree with the writer.

  • Karig2

    Have you ever considered that this might be the new Philadelphia architectural vernacular? If nothing else. it helps establish a timeframe for their construction. It’s a look. Not my personal choice, mind you, but it seems to be popular, perhaps for cost?

  • bem