Between its building and its parking lot, the Hoa Binh shopping center takes up most of the square block enclosed by Washington Avenue, Carpenter Street, 16th Street, and Chadwick Street. We’ve personally visited a few of the businesses located in this shopping center over the years, including the Big 8 Supermarket, Nam Son (delicious Vietnamese hoagies), and Huong Tram restaurant. We’ve learned that the property is under agreement with developers though, and those businesses and several others could soon close their doors forever.
Looking at historical maps, this property was a train right-of-way for the Pennsylvania Railroad, with tracks leading to the train depots on the northwest corner of Broad & Washington. As time passed, the property served as a rail yard for the Pennsylvania Railroad and some years after the company went under, a warehouse was constructed at the corner of 16th & Carpenter, around 1980. That building was converted into the shopping center you see today in 1989- a use that was probably quite welcome at this location thirty years ago. Unfortunately, it has resulted in a rather unfortunate streetscape on the south side of the 1600 block of Carpenter Street.
Next week, developers will present plans to SOSNA to demolish the shopping center and replace it with a residential development. Our reading of the application indicates that the project will entail two rows of 11 homes, each with a parking spot, and a third row of 9 duplexes. Our quick mental math says that’s a total of 40 new units here. Also, we understand that the developers will be maintaining the southern section of the property, which has frontage on Washington Avenue, for a future plan.
Unfortunately, they will be hampered in any future project by the fact that they don’t own the hard corner of 16th & Washington. Years ago, we covered a proposal for a mixed-use building on the triangular lot at the corner which called for 35 units and retail on the first floor, but that project never came about because it withered on the vine while under appeal. The developers of the shopping center site only have 75 feet of frontage on Washington Ave., and the owner of 1601 Washington Ave. has about 125 feet. Assuming the developers get the variance they’re seeking to build their homes and duplexes, we wonder whether they will sell the subdivided southern section of their property to the owner of 1601 Washington Ave. or vice versa. Either way, we don’t imagine it will make sense for either party to individually develop their property, thanks to the continued industrial zoning on Washington Avenue.
Meanwhile, we expect the developers of the shopping center will get the variance they seek, assuming they also don’t get jammed up in the courts. This will be great news for people that live on Carpenter Street, who will trade views of the back wall of a warehouse for views of the fronts of homes. On the other hand, it will be really unfortunate for the businesses in the shopping center and the customers that have been coming there for years. We wish that the shopping center could relocate for a couple of years and then reopen on the first floor of a mixed-use building at this corner, but we recognize that as pure fantasy for all kinds of logistical and financial reasons.