Convent Going Residential In Fishtown?

A little less than a year ago, we brought a development opportunity to your attention at 1420-22 E. Susquehanna Ave. when we spied a 'For Sale' sign on the front of a former convent. In case you don't recall, the building was originally the Convent for the Holy Name of Jesus Church. Built in 1924, it retains many original details, like stained glass windows, woodwork, tin ceilings, and an old staircase. It has over 11K sqft of interior space and is incredibly deep, extending all the way to Hewson Street. And the front of the building is quite lovely.

View of the building

Closer look

A property like this really gets the wheels turning for developers. But because the property is zoned for single-family use, there are very few projects that can happen here by-right. The most straightforward approach would be to convert the building into the largest home in Fishtown, but that's a farfetched possibility at best. Another idea could be to demolish the building and build two mansions, one on Susquehanna and the other on Hewson Street. You could also slice the parcel into three pieces, building two homes on one side and one on the other side. That's about all you can do here by-right, and we don't think that any developer would go in any of those directions.

If you have to go to zoning, the world opens up for all kinds of possibilities. You could demolish the building and construct four nice-sized homes with large yards, with two homes on Susquehanna and two on Hewson. You could also go for duplexes with the same layout. You could also build a large apartment building with ground-floor parking accessed from Hewson Street. Another approach, which would seem like the most natural idea, would be to convert the existing building into apartments. And that's just what the new owners proposed for this property when they came to a Fishtown Neighbors Association zoning meeting last month. That presentation, for nine units and three parking spots, didn't go so well according to Star News. Pushing back against the density, the community voted 34-26 to oppose the project.

The property goes to the ZBA later this month, and we have no idea how they'll vote. If they go with the community and deny the variance, it will be back to the drawing board for the developers. We have to imagine this would mean they'd turn to a proposal that would entail the demolition of the former convent, which would in turn upset a different contingent of neighbors that wish to preserve the architectural fabric of the neighborhood. With the anti-density crowd on one side and the preservation crowd on the other side, these developers could potentially find themselves between a rock and a hard place with this property.