A few readers have reached out recently, wondering about some significant construction activity ongoing at 339 E. Lehigh Ave., which is where Lehigh hits Kensington Avenue and the El. Incidentally, this intersection is also the beginning of a stretch of submerged Conrail tracks which were used as an encampment for drug users for years until a 2017 City cleanup effort. In recent years, the property at 339 E. Lehigh Ave. was a U-Haul location, offering truck rental and self storage.
If you visit this property today, however, the U-haul is gone and you’ll see some major construction is going on. From the looks of the concrete pillars, there’s a significant building in the works.
At first, you might think that there’s some kind of residential project in store for this property, and it’s not unreasonable to come to such a conclusion. We’ve seen numerous projects crop up along Front Street over the last several years, slowly trekking further and further north, showing a growing willingness for people to live right next to the El. Likewise, we’ve seen construction move further and further north in East Kensington, with several projects moving or in the works at Jasper Street or on the block between Jasper and Kensington Avenue, so a project just on the other side of the neighborhood certainly makes sense. Finally, we’re seeing huge new projects on Lehigh Avenue, just a few blocks east of here. So an apartment building isn’t a crazy idea at this location by any means. But… that’s not what’s happening here at all.
This is a former U-Haul location, but it’s also a future U-Haul location. You can see in the rendering above, supplied by JKRP Architects, U-Haul is simply upgrading their facility, constructing a much larger self-storage space while still maintaining their truck rental business. You might think that this plan bums us out, but not really.
Granted, we’re not big fans of self storage facilities (hello 23rd & Washington) but they do serve a purpose and there are some locations that make much more sense than others. And this site seems to fit the bill. Given the general location of property, the fact that it’s pinned between the El and the Conrail tracks, and its enormous size, a storage facility may actually be its highest and best use. And a storage facility with some size will meet area demand much more effectively than a smaller facility, making it less likely that a storage place will open on a property that’s more suited for another use. With that in mind, we’ll be thrilled if all the remaining large lots on Lehigh go residential. Same thing for the big lots on Somerset, across the tracks. Certainly, once this storage facility is complete, there won’t be a need for a competitor to open in the area.