To state the obvious, Francisville has changed considerably since 2009. Back then, Inga Saffron wrote a story about the neighborhood, and started it thusly: "Francisville is by no means one of Philadelphia's hottest places to live -- at least not yet. Plenty of people have never heard of the modest rowhouse neighborhood wedged between fashionable Fairmount and comatose Ridge Avenue."
What a difference eight years makes. Francisville has seen a staggering number of projects since 2009, with new homes and condos galore filling in vacant lots or replacing older buildings. And Ridge Avenue has awoken, with over a dozen new buildings dotting the nascent commercial corridor. Through all the changes in the neighborhood, there has been one constant, and that's a vacant 1.5 acre triangular parcel at 19th & Wylie.
Several readers reached out last week, excitedly sharing the news about some demolition happening at the Grays Ferry & Carpenter intersection. We knew that this couldn't be happening on the southwest corner, as that property is owned by the Veolia plant around the corner and contains several large large tanks of who knows what. The northwest corner has some newer homes, so we figured it was an unlikely candidate. And then our hearts lept. We've been frustrated by the blighted building on the southeast corner for many years, complaining about it in a post in 2013. At the time, we noted that the back of the property had collapsed and we wondered whether the rest could follow. According to L&I though, that wasn't going to happen. Still, every time we passed this building, we felt our blood pressure rise.
Back in 2013
We visited the intersection the other day and holy moly, the place is getting torn down.
According to public record, the same people that have owned the property since 1983 are still the owners. Looking at the permits, it's pretty clear that this isn't a City ordered demolition, like we expected several years ago. We'd wager that developers have purchased this building but it hasn't been reflected in public record, and they are tearing it down with plans to build a new home in its place. But wait, there's more demolition!
We were passing through South Kensington the other day and figured we'd update you on a pair of residential projects moving forward near 6th & Jefferson. First, let's look at the project that started first, on the southwest corner of the intersection. We first told you about this five-home project a little less than a year ago, when the property was sitting vacant, as it had for at least a decade.
Southwest corner of 6th & Jefferson
That's not an empty lot anymore. We were initially alerted to this project by a sign that had been posted to the property, advertising the upcoming construction. That sign indicated that these homes would be priced starting at $325K. These are three bedroom, three bathroom homes with parking which would sell for over $500K just a few blocks to the south or a few blocks to the east, so this sounded like a deal that was too good to be true. Many buyers agreed, it seems, as all of the homes in this project are now under agreement at a price of $350K. With development picking up in this part of the neighborhood, the homes still seem underpriced at that number.
The Graduate Hospital neighborhood is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in town these days, offering close proximity to Rittenhouse but not commanding Rittenhouse prices. Yet. As recently as fifteen years ago though, this was a neighborhood in transition and you could still buy a shell for well under a hundred grand. The 700 block of 20th Street was, at that time, a mix of vacant land, older buildings, and a smattering of new construction. Today there's nary a vacant lot and just about every property is either relatively new or has been renovated in recent memory. Actually, let's track back that last statement- there's now one vacant lot on the block.
We brought 2221 N College Ave. to your attention a couple years ago, noting the unusual triangular shape of the building and the fact that it looked like death warmed over. At the time, we told you that a developer had purchased the building back in 2012 and had begun doing work on the property, but that work stalled out and the building was sitting blighted, vacant, and roofless. Recently, a notice appeared on the building with a warning that the building was unsafe and that the owner had 30 days to make repairs. Without action from the owner of the property, the City could demolish the building.
It was just a few months ago that we happened upon some new construction at 1638 and 1640 N. 2nd St. after a less than successful visit to the nearby Mid-Century Furniture Warehouse. At the time, we told you that developers were filling in a pair of large vacant lots with four new mixed-use buildings, with a pair on 2nd Street and two more on Philip Street. The mixed-use was happening by right, and made some degree of sense on 2nd Street as it's something of a mixed-use corridor. But we were confused as to how retail would work on residential Philip Street.
New buildings on Philip Street
As some months have rolled by, the exterior construction on the buildings has proceeded pretty much as you would expect. But plans for the interiors are changing, per some relatively new zoning notices. The developers are looking to change the mixed-use buildings to triplexes, both on 2nd Street and Philip Street. This certainly makes sense to us, and we wonder whether this was the plan all along. If this was indeed the plan all along, it's an example of a method we've cited numerous times in neighborhoods heavy on student housing. This might be an even easier zoning lift, as the properties had been zoned CMX-2 but were rezoned to residential at some point since the permits were pulled.
The 1700 block of Seybert Street isn't one of Philadelphia's finest, and in the snow it somehow looks extra bleak. According to public record, there are 56 parcels on this block, and 37 of them are sitting vacant. If you happen to visit, you'll agree that this seems pretty accurate.
Looking west on the block
But the photo above also gives you a sense that change is in the air on this block. You can see a truck parked on the northern sidewalk that's loaded up with formwork, and in the distance you can see a three story home that looks like it's a relatively new addition.
New formwork, new home on the south side
The new home is the work of V2 Properties, a developer that's seemingly doing projects like this in every neighborhood around town these days. They're also responsible for the new foundation in the foreground and in addition, they own 1703 Seybert St., where it's safe to assume a new home will soon appear. If history is any indication, these homes will all be listed for sale at market rate prices.
The street simply called "Rittenhouse Square" is, as you'd expect, one of the more exclusive in town, running along the south side of the park of the same name. The street extends a block to the east, stretching to 17th Street, and a couple blocks to the west as well, running to 21st Street, curiously disappearing for a block, and extending again from 22nd to 23rd Street. In the interest of reducing confusion in the universe, we'd probably advocate for changing the name of the street, but we'd think that the people who live on Rittenhouse Sq. probably like the name of their street, thank you very much. With such a name, you'd think that these blocks would be well established and wouldn't see a whole lot of development activity. And yet we've been pulled to the 2000 block of Rittenhouse Sq. a couple times over the years, and now we find ourselves back on this ritzy block.
2012-14 Rittenhouse Sq., in the past
Until a few months ago, 2012-14 Rittenhouse Sq. was home to a pair of two-story homes from the early 1950s which were very well located but didn't have much else going for them. A little over a year ago, the two 2-story homes were listed for sale together, described as fixer-uppers that could either be renovated or demolished and replaced. The developer that ultimately bought them has opted for the latter. We passed by the property last week and found a relatively new hole in the ground.
It looks like the Spring Garden neighborhood could soon get a row of new homes, and we'd be willing wager that these homes will be on the shmancy side. For well over a decade, 1600 and 1602 Wallace St. have been sitting vacant, despite the fact that this is one of the more desirable neighborhoods ringing Center City. An upcoming zoning hearing could change things in a hurry for this property.
View of the property
According to the zoning notices posted on a chain link fence, developers are planning to subdivide the properties into four parcels and build four new homes which we believe would front 16th Street. Each home will be wider and shallower than the typical home, which will probably result floor plates that are relatively standard in size. The zoning application indicates that the homes will rise four stories and have front loading garages, telling us that the homes will have kitchens and living areas on the 2nd floor, with bedrooms on the upper floors.
Though many surrounding blocks have improved dramatically over the last several years, the 2000 block of Reed Street has remained stubbornly crappy. Part of that may have to do with the fact that there's a funeral home at the corner of 20th & Reed. But we'd say it's got more to do with the the fact that there have been several long vacant properties on the south side of the block and the north side of the block has historically been a mix of vacant land and a big ugly warehouse. But times are changing for this block.
Looking west on the 2000 block of Reed
Closer look at two new homes
At 2036 and 2040 Reed St., developers are building a pair of new townhomes. These lots have been sitting empty for at least a decade, so it's encouraging to see that they are finally filling in. Also notable, the blighted home next door was purchased by another developer back in 2014, so there's a good chance it will soon get redeveloped as well. As for the still vacant lot at 2038 Reed St., it's owned by a City agency and could continue to sit empty for years to come. Or it could change hands tomorrow, for affordable or market rate housing. One thing is almost certain, if someone does buy it, they will almost definitely not pay full price, as we've seen time and time again in this neighborhood.