Francisville

Gonna be a tough few months for this block

We haven't been to the 800 block of Opal Street for a few years, not since developers built two homes and a garage that were inspired by the Schmidt’s carriage house on nearby Cambridge Street. Designed by David Traub Architects, these homes are quite a bit more traditional looking than the standard new construction you see around town these days.

Built circa 2013

On our last visit to the block, we also mentioned a nearby vacant lot that was available for sale and opined that some enterprising developer would eventually take advantage of the opportunity, but wondered how they'd handle its narrow 12' width of the lot. The solution, to buy the adjacent lots from the City, seems straightforward but was surely a challenging exercise which took years to execute. Nevertheless, developers were able to purchase the adjoining lots and are now planning three 16'-wide homes for this location. A reader sent us an email last week that gave us the heads up about work getting underway at 867-71 N. Opal St.

Corridor is completely turning over

The incredible transformation of Ridge Avenue is Francisville is probably one of the biggest development stories in town over the last few years, but somehow it seems like it's been flying under the radar. Many decades back, Ridge Avenue functioned as a neighborhood commercial corridor, creating an environment where residents were able to fulfill virtually all of their shopping needs within a few blocks of their homes. If you turn back the clock just a few years, Ridge was but a husk of its former glory, overrun by empty storefronts, blighted buildings, and vacant lots.

Today the corridor is seeing an amazing revival, with new mixed-use buildings on almost every block. While most of the new retail spaces still remain unoccupied, developers are clearly betting that a growing Francisville will have a large appetite for retail on Ridge Avenue in the near future. As the current batch of projects are moving toward completion, there's another wave on the horizon.

Seems like an upgrade to us

Another day, another vacant Francisville lot getting redeveloped.

These days, it seems that you can't go a single block in this neighborhood without running into a contractors framing a building, pouring a foundation, or digging a new hole. Ridge Avenue is particular is seeing an explosion in development, with a bunch of mixed-use projects now under construction and more coming soon. We don't know exactly what businesses will fill all those retail spaces, but we do know that they'll need as many neighbors as possible to ensure success. Or at least viability.

So let's consider 1431 Brown St. as a prime example of the kind of project that will help Ridge Avenue get to where it needs to go.

The property

1431-33 Brown St. has been sitting vacant for many years, owned by religious institutions since the 1950s. At some point in the last few months, developers bought the property and now they're proposing a ten-unit building here. This is a lot of density for what's essentially a double-wide lot, but why the heck not? Ridge Avenue is just steps away and as we said, the corridor needs as much density as it can get. And not for nothing, but North Broad Street is almost as close, with a Broad Street Line station less than two blocks away.

These will be some unusual units

Thanks to William Penn really thinking things through back in the day, our city has been easy to navigate since before everybody had a GPS machine in their pocket. Of course, some areas can get a little tricky, with Francisville chief among the confusing neighborhoods that are close to downtown. For those that never noticed, a section of Francisville between Francis and Ginnodo Streets turns the grid on a 45-degree angle, tracking along Ridge Avenue. This not only makes it tough to identify addresses in the area, but it also creates a number of triangular lots. One such property, 1644 Francis St., has been sitting vacant for quite some time.

In the past

We passed this property earlier this week and discovered a triangular foundation. We don't see this very often.

Plus, new homes coming down the block

Last week, a reader gave us a shout, letting us know that two homes on the northeast corner of 16th & Brown had been demolished. They were even kind enough to share a photo they snapped before the buildings came down.

View in the past

Developers bought both properties earlier this year, clearly with an eye toward demolition. According to the permits on the property, they're consolidating the properties into one- we'd guess that the new building here will be a quadplex, unless the developers decide to go to the ZBA. It looks like the now-demoed corner property was once home to a storefront, but it's a safe bet that the residentially zoned property won't go back to retail use in the future.

Current view

Looking to the east, there's a newer triplex at 1517 Brown St., and more construction on the way next door. The completed triplex is a condo building, with two of the units under agreement and the ground-floor unit listed at $325K. Immediately to the east, three more buildings are still to come at 1511-15 Brown St., and though the permits aren't clear we'd bet on duplexes or triplexes rather than single-family homes.

Pages