Development Opportunity in Callowhill, But Historic Fight Could Loom

Walk around Old City long enough, and you’ll eventually encounter some people touring the area in a horse drawn carriage. We’ve always found this phenomenon to be a little strange, and after a couple of unfortunate incidents, we learned that it’s extra important to look down when crossing the street in this neck of the woods. Further, we suspected that the lifestyle wasn’t exactly wonderful for the horses, who surely didn’t enjoy walking around town as frustrated drivers sped past.

What we didn’t realize is that some of these horses were suffering even more when off the clock. At the end of last year, the City reached an agreement with Philadelphia Carriage Company that resulted in the business shutting down and its horses relocating to an animal sanctuary. According to Philly.com, the horses were being kept in pens that were too small, in a building that was dirty and lacked proper ventilation. Also, the company didn’t have a turnout space for the horses, keeping them indoors and dormant when they weren’t pulling carriages.

This outcome is certainly great for the horses, and a major change for the owner of a company that had been in business for decades. The company operated out of a pair of old industrial buildings in Callowhill, across from Prohibition Taproom. 500 and 506 N. 13th St. were once used by John Evans’ Sons Inc., a spring manufacturer that still exists today, but moved to Lansdale in the 1960s. A ghost sign on the northern building provides evidence of this part of the building’s history.

The property
Northern building
Looking south on 13th Street

With the carriage business now closed, we have to imagine that the owner of the business, who also happens to be the owner of the buildings, will look to sell. Between the two buildings is roughly 6,500 sqft of land, and the zoning designation is the highly permissive CMX-4. The property isn’t listed for sale and we won’t speculate on what someone would be willing to pay, but we’d think it would be a pretty significant sum given the size, zoning, and location.

As we mentioned, these are former industrial buildings with a clearly visible ghost sign, and they date back at least a hundred years. We can certainly see a world in which someone decides to nominate the buildings to the local historic register in an effort to prevent their demolition at the hands of whoever ultimately buys the properties. In the abstract, we’d certainly prefer to see these buildings reused rather than demoed and replaced with something less architecturally satisfying. The other side of the coin, of course, is that historic designation would greatly reduce the amount that developers would be willing to pay for the properties and this would represent a financial loss for the current owner. This is a pickle we keep encountering, and we’ll continue to see this problem until the City figures out a fairer path forward regarding historic designation.

  • James Goodwin

    How high could you build with CMX-4? Once a developer takes that path, it will be a by-right construction job without having to meet with the local RCO. Plus the condition of the building will determine what kind of remedial work you will have to do to make it work vice new construction under CMX-4..

    • ARandomCommenter

      These won’t be sold on the open market anyway. She’ll probably sell to someone in the Chinese community. We had a nice warehouse at 12th and Hamilton. That was torn down for the monstrosity that’s there now. There’s no thought for what would work in the neighborhood, just cheap, ugly construction.

    • rlohbauer

      If OPA numbers are correct, both buildings are around 300% FAR. CMX-4 allows 500% FAR, with bonuses allowing up to 1200% FAR total. But the bonuses haven’t been very popular with developers; I think they are too tough to get.