Fishtown

We would have preferred the apartment plan, but we wouldn't have to live with it

When it comes to a neighborhood group supporting a new project, sometimes the question is less about the actual proposal, and more about what the developers can alternately build by right. Such is the case for developers' plans to construct 14 single-family homes on four connected parcels at 1123-27 Earl St. in Fishtown. Neighbors voted to support the plans at a November Fishtown Neighbors Association zoning meeting.

Current view on Earl Street

Right now, the parcel includes four properties, including vacant lots on Earl Street and a garage on Palmer Street. All are currently zoned for commercial and mixed-use. “We've gotten into the habit of explaining what can be built by right,” said Matt Karp, FNA zoning chair.

By right, developers could construct a 34-unit building with 10 parking spots and no commercial use. This may seem odd that the code doesn't require commercial use in a commercial district, but that's what we've got. Instead, because neighbors voted to support plans, developers (assuming the ZBA allows it) will construct a project designed by JKR Partners that will build a private road parallel to Girard Avenue (perpendicular to Earl and Palmer) down the middle of the lot, and build 14 single-family homes that back up to the rear of the buildings on Girard and face the private road.

Community is not behind the developer

In Fishtown, a year's worth of inattentive ownership has come back to hurt developers who planned to take the former East Baptist Church at 1236 E. Columbia Ave. and reuse it by turning the building into 15 apartments.

The church

At an October Fishtown Neighbors Association meeting, neighbors voted a resounding 65-11 not in favor of a project from Metal Green Inc., largely for two reasons, according to Matt Karp, FNA zoning chair. First, density. Neighbors felt 15 units seemed like a lot. That it was for apartments as opposed to condos also made the proposal less attractive to people in the community. When considered within the context that this immediate area has numerous projects already creating new units in the past few years, like all three phases of Ice House, Awesome Town, and a 13-unit project in the works, neighbors were less enthused by the idea of even more density. Then there's the condition of the former church property since it was purchased last October for $385K, a far cry from a $1.4M listing price in 2008. That purchase came after neighbors tried for a few years, finally succeeding, to push the property to a sheriff's sale.

Still it looks way better than it once did

We last checked on the corner where Oxford hits Frankford Avenue back in the spring, when we told you that developers had purchased 1546 Frankford Ave. and were planning a serious renovation of the property. Passing by the other day, that effort looks like it's mostly finished. If you can recall, the building was previously a mess of siding and stucco, and the finished product is a great improvement, with eight apartments and a commercial space that's available for rent. The developers, we know thanks to the sign on the property, are Revolution Development Group, the same crew that's building the Bread Street Estates in Old City

Recent renovation, space for rent

Across the street, a former bar at 1523 Frankford Ave. is under construction. It was over a year ago that the owners went before the community to renovate the building into two apartments and a vacant commercial space on the first floor. Work has progressed more slowly at this property, but considering the fact that it's been vacant for several years, any signs of progress are welcome. Surely, neighbors will be keen to see what kind of tenant eventually appears downstairs.

Will have to come to community first

It might be awhile before developers have a chance to appear before the Fishtown Neighbors Association zoning committee for their proposal to transform a large corner vacant parcel at 623 E Girard Ave. into a new mixed-use building.

Developers from Ascender Investments failed to appear for a scheduled appearance with the FNA earlier this month, and have not yet filed an appeal with the ZBA, according to FNA zoning chair Matt Karp. The property sits at the edge of Fishtown, about a block from where Girard Avenue melts into I-95. We're pretty sure they're the same folks who built the seven homes on Flora Street in recent years- you can see the backs of those homes in the photos of the site.

The site, new homes behind it
From the other direction

“We spent a lot of time flyering and advertising for them not to show up to their community meeting,” Karp said.

Across from future apartments

As Fishtown has continued to redevelop, we've seen a good mix of larger projects and one-off projects, sometimes even on the same block. On the 2100 block of Norris Street alone, we've seen the ten-home Norris Point project and an additional six homes get started a little closer to Frankford Avenue. On the other side of Frankford but technically on the same block, we recently came upon a one-off mixed-use building under construction at 2186 E. Norris St., replacing a vacant lot.

In the past
Framing underway

According to the permits, this property will have commercial on the first floor and residential above. It's encouraging that the developers would opt for a commercial use at this location. With Frankford Avenue just steps away, perhaps there's a belief that the good vibes from the corridor can spill over onto Norris Street, adding a slightly hidden retail amenity for the neighborhood. It's actually pretty consistent with the fact that the folks building this thing are the same ones who own the building across the street which is on its way to renovation.

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