The 300 block of N. Front Street is an interesting one. If you start in South Philly, this is the first block of Front Street that runs to the east of I-95, which means it's the first block of Front Street with unfettered access to the waterfront. It's got its old cobblestones mostly intact, like several other nearby blocks of Front and unlike the 800 block of Leithgow Street. A poultry slaughterhouse makes its home on the block. And perhaps surprisingly, it's home to a few vacant lots.
343 N. Front St. in the past
The vacant lot pictured above though, is no longer vacant. Developers bought 343 N. Front St. last year and now it's an active construction site. Those same developers also have purchased the one-story garage pictured next door, and they're building there too.
From 1866 until last year, 240 Greenwich St. was home to a building that was originally the Greenwich Street Church and most recently the Khmer Palelai Buddhist Temple. The property changed hands in late 2013 and the new owners tore down the historic, "non-historic" building.
In the past, view from Tasker Street
Considering the size of the lot, we were intially expecting a large residential project, like so many we've seen of late in Pennsport. We were quite surprised to discover that the owners would only be building two homes on this lot with one fronting Tasker Street and one fronting Greenwich Street. Passing by recently, we discovered that the home on Tasker Street is almost finished. The home on Greenwich Street hasn't gotten out of the ground yet, though the foundation is in place.
Okay, raise your hand if you've heard of Erdman Street.
Thought so. Even if we told you it was in Francisville, you would still probably be flummoxed. So let's end the suspense, shall we?
Erdman Street is a barely an alley, only accessible from the 800 block of Perkiomen Street. This is the only block of Erdman Street in the entire city, from what we can tell. And oh by the way, it looks totally horrible.
Looking at an old listing, we see that the white two-story building was once an ambulance service center. Alexander Ginzburg purchased the building, along with the adjacent pair of lots, back in 2003 for a combined $30K. The Google Maps time machine function suggests that the little building has possibly been converted into a home and the lots have been used as a yard in recent years. At one point, we noticed a kiddie pool. Public record suggests that the lots are still owned by the same person, but there's a decent chance that a developer has stepped in and the City's records haven't caught up yet.
A couple years back, we told you about a community meeting where developers presented plans for new homes at 1341-45 S. 20th St., attempting to get support for a variance triggered by too-small-rear-yards. The community meeting didn't go great, but they eventually got the variance they were seeking. Somewhere along the line, something compelled them to try something else even though they could have built homes on these long-vacant lots. They decided to come back to the community and return to the ZBA with plans to build four-story duplexes with the intention of selling the units as condos. They got approval and have been building ever since. Checking in recently, we discovered good progress at the site.
Three new duplexes
Project rendering and floor plans
From what we hear, many of the units are already under agreement. Lower units were listed just under $250K, and the one upper unit we can find currently listed is priced at just under $270K. Generally speaking, the vast majority of new construction in Point Breeze has been of the single-family or multi-family for rent varieties, but with the success of this project and a couple others, we think the condo market is finally making some headway in this neighborhood.
Over the years, we've been passing along news about various changes at or near the intersection of 19th & Poplar. It's almost impossible to keep track of all the new buildings that have sprung up, but a couple of lots have remained on the southeast corner. In recent years, those lots have contained an artistic 'Francisville' sign and a Zagar-ified tree. Now, a couple of zoning notices have also appeared on the site.
Developers have owned the parcel since 2010, but new owners stepped in last summer. Soon, they'll appear before the ZBA with plans for two duplexes, joining the relatively new duplexes immediately right next door. It will be a shame to see this little artsy nook disappear, but if we're to be honest with ourselves it was only a matter of time before this was going to happen.
Looking up 19th Street, progress on another project
We last visited this intersection in March when we discovered four foundations on 19th Street, half a block to the north. Today, four triplexes have risen from the ground and brickwork is underway. This parcel, in contrast to the corner with the sign and tree, was a mess for many years. So nothing sad about this parcel turning over.
The developers appeared last month before the Bella Vista Neighbors Association and received a letter of non-opposition from the community group. There was some token architectural feedback offered, but nothing life-changing. The project was approved by the ZBA two weeks ago so look for the parking lot to shut down sooner rather than later.
South Kensington has come a very long way in the last few years, but it still possesses entirely too many enormous vacant lots. This doesn't really come as much of a surprise- it's actually to be expected when witnessing the redevelopment of a neighborhood once dominated by industry. But today we have good news on this fine Monday! One of those aforementioned big lots should soon be on the outs.
Currently, the east side of 5th Street south of Thompson is an overgrown mess. It's only half a block from Girard Avenue though, making it a excellent candidate for redevelopment. Last week, developers for 1213 N. 5th St. came before the community in a South Kensington Community Partners meeting to present information on their big plans for the parcel. Without even seeing the plans yet, you can imagine it would be an improvement.
Looking north on 5th Street
But it just so happens, we've seen the plans, thanks to the good people at Harman Deutsch. And they do indeed make for a fine improvement over what we see today. The project will entail 14 duplexes on 5th Street, 7 duplexes on Orkney Street, a mixed-use building at the corner of 5th & Thompson, and a dog park. The site plan also shows 45 parking spaces for the 45 units that will be created.
Considering how little distance it covers, there's a disproportionate amount of stuff happening on 21st Street between Race and Spring Streets. This block is most famous as the home of the Please Touch Museum for decades until its move to Fairmount Park. It's perhaps slightly less famous for its views of the IMAX theater at the Franklin Institute. This blog has visited the block on several occasions, generally to provide updates about the construction of a project at the corner of 21st & Race which seems to have dragged on.
Matzi Builders and Developers tore down an old school district building over two years ago in anticipation of constructing eight large and high-end homes. The project is aptly called the Eight on Race. A year ago, we checked in and saw that four of the eight were framed out. Today, those four homes are approaching completion at last. We're not sure but we're under the impression that at some point construction slowed considerably or stopped entirely. Are we right, people who live near here?
When the new zoning code came out a couple years back, it included a provision that required a setback on three-story homes constructed on two-story blocks. The reason this happened is up for debate. Some would say it was intended to impede gentrification. Others would argue that it was meant to maintain some sort of architectural uniformity on shorter blocks. Surely there are other reasons we could conjure up as well.
Not up for debate is the lousy on-the-ground impact this provision has generated. We've seen many examples of unattractive setbacks, used to avoid a trip to the ZBA. A Chichen Itza-like home on the 2000 block of Carpenter Street is a fine example. What we haven't seen yet is a four-story building with setbacks on the top two floors. Until now, that is.
Doesn't look great
We first told you about 2046 Federal St. a few months ago, when it was only a foundation. This was shortly after the former launderette next door had been demolished after blighting the corner for years. We had no idea that the triplex would have its top two floors set back, especially since our understanding of the code would have allowed for no setbacks by right. We were under the belief that a setback was only needed if both homes on either side of a project rose only two stories, and since this property sits at the end of the block it would seem that the setback rule shouldn't apply. NB we are not plans examiners or an attorneys; our opinion doesn't really count.