Massive Project in the Works at Frankford & Lehigh

It was roughly a year ago that we directed your gaze to a development opportunity at 2035 E. Lehigh Ave., a large parcel at the edge of East Kensington that was listed for sale for $5M. We believed that the asking price was rather high, and recognized the challenges of the site, like its close proximity to the Conrail tracks and the fact that Lehigh Avenue isn’t exactly desirable frontage. But we were still of the opinion that a developer would eventually step forward to purchase the property, drawn by the sexiness of a 4-acre parcel across the street from a very hot neighborhood.

View of the property
Overhead view gives a sense of the size

By the time the summer rolled around, RiverWards Group had the property under contract. And we should have expected as much, as these very developers have built countless projects in Fishtown, Port Richmond, and East Kensington over the last several years. They’re also the folks behind the Avenue 30 project, so it’s clear that they already have a major stake in Lehigh Avenue. As such, it comes as no surprise that they’re the party looking to develop across the street. Still, we’re pretty sure this will be the biggest project ever for these guys.

As we said, this is a four-acre parcel so there’s a huge canvas on which the developers and the architects can collaborate. When we previously covered the property, we suggested a large apartment building on the northern end of the property, and a row of town homes on Lehigh. Clearly, the developers and KJO Architecture spent a little more time and energy fretting about the details of the project, and have decided on something a little more complicated than our concept. Here’s the site plan of the project, cribbed from their CDR application.

Project site plan

The western side of the project will include five apartment buildings with a total of 74 residential units, and four of those buildings will have a roughly 4,000 sqft retail space on the first floor. The plans call for a quartet of duplexes next to the apartment buildings, then three rows of twenty town homes. The northern rows of town homes will have a courtyard in between them and every home will include an interior parking space. The northeastern section of the project will feature eight more duplexes. In total, there will be 155 units and 158 parking spaces. Here’s a bunch of renderings to give you an idea of what to expect, assuming the project gets approval from the ZBA.

Rendering at the corner
Moving east, the apartment buildings on Lehigh
Drive aisle entrance
The homes on Lehigh
Courtyard in between the homes

As the property is zoned for industrial use, there’s no guarantee that the ZBA will give its blessing. But we’re hopeful that it will, as this would truly be a game changer for this end of East Kensington. Clearly, with the success of the Avenue 30 project, people are willing to move to Lehigh Avenue, and we don’t believe that the location on the northern side of the street will dim people’s enthusiasm about living here per se. As we mentioned though, the Conrail tracks are pretty much adjacent to this property, and there’s a metal scrapyard next to the eastern side of the parcel. Those factors could certainly deter some people from wanting to live in one of these homes or apartments, and would come into play more significantly than for the Avenue 30 homes. We expect that the apartment buildings will be rentals, and the negatives about the surroundings may not be as much of a consideration. The surroundings might present more of a challenge for the homes and the duplexes, which we expect will be listed for sale. Then again, RiverWards Group really knows what they’re doing, and we have to give them the benefit of the doubt with this. We’re certainly rooting for them, as are, we’d guess, most of the folks that live nearby.