While discussions slowly percolate on the future of Washington Avenue, the present continues to change. Tonight at 6pm at CAPA the second public meeting will take place to discuss the Phila2035 South District Plan, a planning document which we understand will include the remapping of both sides of Washington Avenue. In the meantime, west of Broad Street, almost every parcel is zoned for industrial use- though many would argue it would be an ideal mixed-use corridor moving forward. Sadly, until that remapping happens, the current zoning designations are hampering forward-looking projects while encouraging backward-looking projects. To wit, consider the overturned mixed-use project at 1601 Washington Ave. and the planned storage facility at 2300 Washington Ave. which can be built by right.
If you look to the east of the future storage facility, at 2318 Washington Ave. there's a collection of zoning notices associated with the old EHC Food and a former substation. Plans here, as presented last week to the community, call for a second-hand furniture, home goods, and building supply store from Habitat for Humanity called ReStore. The project will include 33 parking spaces.
This project certainly isn't problematic like the storage facility, but to us it represents something of a missed opportunity. Yes, the addition of a retail store to Washington Avenue is a step in the right direction. The fact that this place will sell goods at below market value should be a boon for the nearby community, where so many families are struggling. And Habitat for Humanity is a great organization and the fact that ReStore puts dollars into their coffers is a wonderful thing as well.
But we have a concern- with what we'd guess is a long-term lease on the space and Habitat spending real dollars on fit-out, the building is likely to remain as-is for many years to come. And while retail is a positive choice for the location, a one-story building is not, in our estimation, the highest and best use for the property. If we had our druthers (and an unlimited supply of cash) we'd love to see the supermarket structure demolished and replaced with a mid-rise building with apartments on the upper floors and a ReStore location downstairs. The old substation building, of course, would stay and get renovated into something cool. Maybe artist lofts?
Grand scheme, this isn't such a big deal and the store will certainly, as we said, benefit the local community. But it's the inefficiency of the thing that drives us nuts. Can't you imagine a scenario in which Washington Avenue gets mixed-use zoning and a few years from now a big developer backs up the truck to buy this parcel? It certainly isn't out of the question.