Amber Street in East Kensington is getting more development, we just aren't sure exactly what form it will take. Last week, a reader gave us the heads up that a one-story building at 2319 Amber St. had been demolished. The building was previously home to a car mechanic shop, so there's a bunch of existing curb cuts on the property.
In the past
Now a vacant lot
Developers purchased the property earlier this year but what they'll build here remains to be seen. The lot, which measures over 4,000 sqft, has a bit of an irregular shape which would make it easy to build two really wide but needlessly long homes. Or you could build five homes at normal width, but not really deep enough. Alternately, three buildings with apartments could be a way to go. But we'll leave it to the architects to figure it out, and then to the community to chime in, since the property is inappropriately zoned for single-family use. One thing we can pretty much guarantee, it won't go back to being used as a garage.
Amazingly, it's been almost a year since we last checked in on the huge CHOP project on Schuylkill Avenue. At that time, the former Springfield Beer Distributor air hangar was in the process of being demolished and the former JFK Vocational School was next on the, ahem, "chopping" block. The months have rolled off the calendar and the old beer distributor building is long gone. The school, originally built as a Marine Corps Supply Depot, has likewise been torn down, though that effort took a little while. Today, we see a bonafide construction site.
For the thirsty hordes that typically descend on Manayunk every weekend, a project currently under construction has slightly diminished the parking options. Previously, 4304 Cresson St. was a parking garage. Considering its location underneath the rail tracks, this seemed like an extremely reasonable use for this big old building. Incidentally, a public swimming pool was located here at least until the 1960s, so it's possible the building wasn't so old after all.
In the past
But that's pretty much an academic conversation at this point since the building is all but demolished. A new building has risen from its ashes.
As we've said ad nauseum, the East Girard Avenue corridor continues to improve. Some of that improvement is coming in the form of new construction, like the still-newish building at Shackamaxon Street with five apartments and a Palm Tree Market. Or the building planned at Crease Street which we just covered the other day. Other improvements are coming in the form of the renovation of existing buildings, like the former auto supply shop at Marlborough, which looks far better than it once did but still lacks a retail tenant, from what we've heard. Today we bring you anothe renovation which is improving some tired old buildings near Montgomery Avenue.
Renovation is evident
603 and 605 E. Girard Ave. have been on and off the market for the last few years before finally selling to developers last summer. According to the listing, one of the storefronts was previously home to a television repair shop and the other housed a workshop of some kind. The listing had this photo of the defunct store, showing at least one amazing feature.
At 7th & Berks, we told you last week about plans for nine triplexes, ostensibly targeting Temple students. A commenter was kind enough to direct our attention one block to the east, to 6th & Berks, where a long-vacant lot is now home to a new foundation.
In the past
Naturally, your first expectation here would be even more student housing. As we mentioned last week, the rail tracks that run between 9th and 10th Streets represent a barrier from Temple, but projects like Paseo Verde are potentially inspiring additional development to the east of the school. If, however, your first guess here is student housing, your guess would be totally wrong. No folks, this will be a mixed-use building, combining a home with an artist studio. And it's gonna look like nothing else in the area.
Developers have been working since this past winter, trying to get approval for their plans to transform a vacant East Girard lot at 1142 Crease St., only two blocks beyond Frankford Avenue. They reappeared before the Fishtown Neighbors Association in early July, and got support for their plans to build a four-story building with ground-floor retail and three apartments above. They got approval from the ZBA soon after.
According to FNA zoning chair Matt Karp, a handful of FNA members have gone to ZBA hearings lately. What they've observed is the ZBA keeping close to the zoning code, denying various projects where designs showed a height beyond what code allows. According to Karp, since the 2012 change in the code allowed for four-story homes and raised the permitted height from 35' to 38', the ZBA sticking close to the code has been a steady theme.
A couple years back, we predicted that two large projects, Liberty Square and Soko Lofts, would transform the South Kensington neighborhood and bring new attention to an area that teemed with potential. After a lengthy delay, Liberty Square finally got moving in December, but progress has been slow. And the Soko Lofts project hasn't moved forward at all. Remember, that project would bring 311 apartments, 4-6 retail spaces, and about a hundred parking spots to a giant lot surrounded by 2nd, Thompson, American, and Master Streets. This photo from a couple years ago still pretty much applies today.
Future Soko Lofts?
Recently, we learned that the project may have new life. Last week, a slightly revised plan (with 320 units) went before the community at a South Kensington Community Partnership meeting. But it was overwhelming rejected by those in attendance. The developers will either revise their plans to meet community concerns or chance it with the ZBA. But the fact that there's even a conversation about this project two years after it first came on the scene indicates that something could soon be happening here.
As it is, there are two projects nearby that are at least worth mentioning. First, let's turn our eye to 1317 N. 2nd St., where developers have replaced an old home with a new home.
The Exchange Lofts building at 17th & Poplar is one of our favorites around town. The property was designed by architect John Torrey Windrim as a Bell Telephone Company exchange (see what they did there?) but sat vacant and deteriorating for several years. Thankfully, developers purchased the handsome structure in 2007 and set to the task of bringing it back to life in the form of eight condos across four floors.
In the past
A couple years back, we told you of plans for The Exchange, Phase II, a new seven-story building next to the Exchange Lofts that would mean sixteeen additional units for this corner. At the time, we praised the architecture of this project for taking a very contemporary approach, making no effort to match the existing property. The project took a little while to get off the ground but at this point you get a really good idea of what it will look like when it's finished.
But after the first two homes were framed out, the project stopped dead in its tracks. As we told you before, the new homes were about two-feet taller than was permitted by the permits and L&I shut down the site. The developers ultimately raised the homes off their foundations, lopped off the overbuild, and dropping the shorter homes back onto the foundations and were allowed to resume construction. That was in the spring of 2014. Checking back in today, we see that the first two homes seem finished and the next four are now under construction.
It seems that several developers are wagering that there are no shortage of people who are enthused about the idea. We've already covered several projects in this general vicinity, and we recently spotted a couple more. Nothing too crazy, but in the context of the other stuff happening nearby it's still worth noting.
SW corner of 4th & Tasker in the past
Renovation into a triplex one off the southwest corner
1602 S. 4th St. blends in beautifully with its neighbors, having been designed by the same architect, probably a hundred years ago. But this particular property has sat vacant for the last several years and went on the market in shell condition last fall. Developers snatched it up in just a few days for $160K and are now in the process of converting it into a triplex. Work is still ongoing, but we'd imagine neighbors are pleased that this blight is being taken off the block.