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.
Recently, another business joined the fray, as Booker's Restaurant opened its doors on the north side of the 5000 block of Baltimore Avenue. Restaurateur Saba Tedla, owner of Aksum Cafe on the 4600 block, had been planning a restaurant called Babylon Bistro at 5021-23 Baltimore Ave. several years ago, but somehow the business morphed into Booker's along the way. Now it's a hundred seat bar-restaurant that also has live music. We'll properly check it out next time we're in the area during their business hours, but the menu looks pretty solid. And not for nothing, but the buildings are looking much better than they did a few years back.
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.
We've gone past 35 N. 2nd St. a number of times over the last month, each time meaning to pause for a minute to peer at the zoning notice posted on the front, but always in too much of a hurry. Finally, we took a minute yesterday to look at the zoning notice on this vacant building, which was previously home to I. Miller Microscopes for a very long stretch. Developers bought the building about a year ago, paying $800K for the property.
View from the north
Looking at the zoning notice, we see that those developers have plans to build an addition on the building and intend to maintain the ground floor commercial space while creating ten apartments on the upper floors. The minutes from their presentation to the Historical Commission provide additional detail, indicating that they'll build out the rest of the third floor and construct a fourth floor as well, leaving a 25' break in the middle of the building on the fourth floor, ostensibly to accommodate deck space and to provide additional light to the upper units. According to the zoning application, which got approval last month from the ZBA, they don't yet have a tenant in place for the retail space. It's a safe bet that the microscope store, which has moved to the 'burbs, won't be making a comeback here.
The triangular lot at 4610 Cedar Ave., which happens to be the intersection with Baltimore Avenue, has been woefully underused for a really long time. A one-story building stood here which resembled a tiny McDonald's and housed a PFCU branch until 2010. Though a couple of businesses looked at leasing the building in the years since, nothing opened up. Given the heat on the Baltimore Avenue commercial corridor, this setup didn't make much sense.
In the past
In the summer of 2015, we told you that the building had been demolished and that plans were moving forward to build a mixed-use building here. At the time, we understood that plans called for eight apartments and ground-floor retail but we didn't have much more information. Also, a neighbor had appealed the project, which had gotten its permits by-right, so it wasn't a slam dunk that it was even going to happen. Checking in on the property now though, we can see that it has indeed moved forward, and it looks to be complete.
From what we understand, the Point Breeze Avenue commercial corridor was once an amazing neighborhood amenity, with such a selection of stores that neighbors rarely needed to venture to Center City for shopping purchases. Today, this is not the case, as the Breeze is home to more empty retail space and vacant land than businesses. In fits and starts, the corridor is reawakening, as a handful of new establishments have opened over the last few years, like On Point Bistro, Tasty Toast, Kind Institute, and most recently, Mattei Family Pizza. But Point Breeze Avenue still has light years to travel before it can be favorably compared to its similarly diagonal sister street, Passyunk Avenue.
We've been more focused on the northern blocks of the corridor, thinking that new businesses will drift from north to south in the same way that development has moved through the neighborhood. So it was a bit of a surprise to learn that developers were looking to build a pair of mixed-use buildings on the 1600 block on Point Breeze Avenue. This block has more vacant lots than existing buildings, but it has been home to the Point Breeze Popup Beer Garden for the last couple years. The zoning notices at 1606 and 1650 Point Breeze Ave. sit on either side of the beer garden.
A pair of properties on Girard Avenue have been sitting vacant and blighted for many years, and we're frankly surprised we never covered them before today. They've come onto our radar now because they're getting renovated, but before we get into that, let's look at some recent history.
If you visit 325-327 W. Girard Ave. today you'll see they're under construction, with a tarp covering new framing in the front. The buildings were tied up for a few months with violations, but it seems those have now been cleared up and the renovation efforts have a clear path to move forward. This is surely welcome news for people that live nearby that have had to stare at these buildings sit in a state of disrepair for many years.
From roughly 2011 to 2016
Yeah, that looks pretty bad. But don't let that caption make you think they were in good shape before 2011.
Buildings were sitting blighted and vacant for many years at 966 N. 2nd St., but developers purchased the property and tore down the buildings in the summer of 2015. Shortly after, we told you about plans to build a mixed-use building here, with underground parking, retail on the first floor, and 13 apartments. Looking today at the permits, we see the building will have animal services in that retail space, but we don't know whether that means doggie daycare, a vet, or something else. We'd have thought that the building would have made more progress by now, but you can see that the workers on the site are only now getting beyond underground work. The good news is that the project is finally moving and we expect it'll be done sometime later this year.