With numerous projects popping up on the 1400 block of Germantown Avenue over the last few years, the large property at 1413-27 Germantown Ave. represented one of the more tantalizing development opportunities in South Kensington. So it was with some intrigue that we brought the property to your attention about a year ago, noting that it was listed for sale for $3.9M and wondering just how much someone would actually be willing to pay for it. We still don't know the answer to that question, since it still hasn't officially sold just yet- but it's been under contract for many months and we've now heard about two very different development plans for the property.
A reader tipped us off recently that they noticed some demolition activity on the south side of the 1600 block of Poplar Street, but it seems that the demo contractors moved pretty quickly and were mostly finished their work by the time we were able to pay a visit. In the past, there was a rather wide building standing at 1624 Poplar St. which we imagine was at one point affiliated with the adjacent Church of the Living God. The cross above the door seems like a pretty good indication, at least.
In the past
The property is quite large, measuring roughly 9,000 sqft in total. With multi-family zoning, it represents an easy opportunity to build condos or rental apartments by right, and that's exactly what's happening. The developers have a plan to subdivide the parcel into five lots and are planning to build a quartet of quadplexes, leaving one of the lots vacant for the time being. We confess, we have no idea why they're keeping the westernmost lot vacant, we'd think it would make sense to develop that one too. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the last lot is directly next door to a building that dates back over 150 years. Maybe the developers are worried about underpinning?
It seems those negotiations didn't go very well. Last month, Alterra received a conditional zoning permit to demolish the building and replace it with a mixed-use building with 65 apartments over 5 stories, ground-floor retail, and 43 underground parking spots. This project appears to be by-right, gaining 15 feet of allowable height due to a "fresh market" bonus provided by the zoning code, and gaining additional density because of a green roof bonus. This information comes from a SHCA notice that went up today, which also indicates that the project is under appeal with a hearing date to be determined.
It was almost five years ago (man, we've been doing this awhile) that we told you about plans for three duplexes on the corner of 36th & Wharton in the Forgotten Bottom neighborhood. The properties at 3536-40 Wharton St. were sitting vacant, though neighborhood bar Tony D's had stood there until just a few years earlier. That building looked like three stories of garbage, so it's no shock it got torn down.
In the past
Earlier this week, we got word that construction had gotten started here. And we needed to see for ourselves, since we keep expecting to see development in Forgotten Bottom but have found ourselves perpetually disappointed by the slow progress in the neighborhood. And by slow progress, of course, we mean that there's been almost no construction here despite the proximity to West Philadelphia and the easy access to the Pennovation Works. But hey, when we zipped by the properties we did indeed see that there's some construction happening.
It was almost five years ago that we told you about plans to renovate a blah building on the corner of 17th & Wood, plans that included a 3-story addition with office use on the 2nd and 3rd floors and apartments on the 4th and 5th floors. It would have been a sweet project for this corner and it seemed timely, as plans had just emerged for two significant projects from the LDS Church right across the street.
To state the obvious, Passyunk Avenue is great. It's got a bevy of restaurants, a growing collection of locally owned small businesses, and a general vibe that has made it the commercial corridor du jour for at least the last couple thousand jours. You'd think, given the power of Passyunk Avenue, that we'd be covering a ton of development nearby- but you'd be incorrect. And it's not because of a lack of demand, but a lack of supply.
The neighborhoods around Passyunk Avenue never experienced the same kind of disinvestment as say, Point Breeze or Graduate Hospital, and as a result there simply aren't anywhere near as many development opportunities around the corridor. When one comes along, developers are typically quick to pounce. Take, for example, 1133 Dickinson St., which was sitting blighted until 2012, when developers tore down an old home and built a new one that quickly sold for over $400K.
A little over a decade ago, Victor's Tavern turned into Sidecar Bar & Grille on the northwest corner of 22nd & Christian, giving the gentrifying Graduate Hospital neighborhood a gastropub to call its own. The years have gone by and the surrounding neighborhood has improved significantly, though some vestiges of the old neighborhood remain. One such callback is the laundromat on the northeast corner of 22nd & Christian, a one-story building where a business was still operating until sometime last year.
The buildings at 4700 Kingsessing Ave. were constructed over a century ago, designed by Frank Furness and originally housing the Church of Atonement. By the time 2013 rolled around, the property was in shambles, with neighbor concerns about structural issues resulting in an L&I violation that put the future of the building in doubt. Less than two years later, developer Guy Laren came onto the scene, purchasing the church and starting renovation work, totally fixing up the smaller building and partially renovating the former sanctuary. Several businesses now make their home on this little campus, including a day care and a community print shop called the Soapbox.
But what of the section of the former sanctuary of the church which remains boarded up? A zoning notice on the property provides some insight into what's happening there.
As we mentioned when we visited the 3600 block of Haverford Avenue over the summer, it's one of the worst looking blocks in the area. Aside from a colorful artist studio, the northern side of the block is entirely vacant, thanks to a seemingly fizzled effort to build a Mantua supermarket. There's a church and a vacant auto shop on the south side of the block, along with some more vacant land, making for a slightly less bleak situation than across the street. But the south side of the block has at least one upgrade in store, as the ZBA approved plans a few months ago for developers to demolish the empty auto shop and construct a mixed-use building with 21 apartments. You can see though, work has not yet begun.
Project in the works
And lo, another project could be coming to this block! There's some vacant land at 3604-08 Haverford Ave., immediately to the east of the auto shop. These lots were owned by the City for about 50 years and in an amazing and unexpected development, the current owner was able to purchase them. For reasons we cannot understand, the City sold the lots for a combined $55K, far below what they'd sell them for on the open market. Then again, the City doesn't really need money these days so who cares.
Meandering through the River Wards the other day, we spied a vacant building at 2530 E. Hagert St. that we had never noticed before, even though it's been in poor condition for several years. Something about the property gave us the feeling that developers already had this property in the crosshairs, and we were on the money in that regard. The property traded about a year ago, selling for $95K, and we have to think it won't be long until the owners tear down the blighted building and construct a new single-family home here.