spruce hill community association

Vacant lot next to Clark Park should finally get redeveloped

The saga of 4224 Baltimore Ave. has taken a satisfying turn.

Photo from awhile ago but it still applies

We first pondered this property back in the spring of 2012, wondering how it was possible that a large vacant lot could exist across the street from the wonderful Clark Park. A year later, we were excited to learn about a by-right plan for 92 apartments, though details were lacking at the time. After another year, we covered an impressive community outreach process from developers the Clarkmore Group with help from U3 Advisors, which resulted in a host of changes to the project. The revised plans called for 132 condos and rental apartments, retail, and roughly 1:2 parking. Last fall though, the project seemed like it was in jeopardy as the developers were looking for an ordinance, but Councilwoman Blackwell was unwilling to oblige despite requests from multiple community groups.

Should be less controversial than the Subway

In the spring of 2012, a Subway franchise opened near 46th & Baltimore. At the time, several neighbors decried the move- some were upset because it was a chain and others that were worried customers would zip in and out of a parking alley behind the adjacent homes.

The store had a 10-year-lease, but it closed this past winter. At the time, the Spruce Hill Community Association was told that Subway was actively engaging new tenants for the spot. But the space, at 4533 Baltimore Ave., has remained shuttered. Now, plans for a new tenant have emerged and work has been ongoing at the site.

Long time coming after 2011 fire

Since fire swept through the Transition to Independent Living Facility at 4536 Spruce St. in 2011, the building has sat, a burned out memory, with its facade still intact. That state of idleness will continue, at least for now, as a timeline for redevelopment of the parcel by Mission First Housing Group into 24 affordable-housing units is still up in the air.

“We're in limbo right now,” said Barry Grossbach, Spruce Hill Community Association zoning chair.

Current view of the property

Developers last appeared before the SHCA in December. According to Grossbach, the SCHA is working with them to address a neighbor's concern—the owner of the adjacent Kingsbury apartment building, who is worried about how close the new building will approach his own. There's also the final streetscape, and landscape issues to be addressed.

Developers substantially decreased the setback following earlier meetings, but final designs are still being considered, Grossbach said, calling it “a work in progress,” and adding “there's no time frame at this point.” The building would include one- and two-bedroom apartments aimed at individuals earning less than $36K a year, according to the West Philly Local.

After lots of community engagement

Along Baltimore Avenue in West Philly, the time has come for developers to move forward and officially apply for zoning for their proposal for a 132-unit mixed-use building with a fitness center at a vacant lot at 43rd & Baltimore across the street from Clark Park. Until 2009, a historic building that previously housed a school and women’s shelter stood on this site.

The site

Representatives from U3 Ventures, led by owner Omar Blaik, presented the most recent plans for 4224 Baltimore at a public meeting last month that was overseen by the Spruce Hill Community Association. Those plans were for a glass, brick and stone panel building with 132 condos and rental apartments that would also include a large restaurant and the aforementioned retail fitness center. Designed by Cecil Baker Architects, the most recent vision is for 120K sqft of residential and 17K sqft of retail in a two-section structure with varying heights, with 60 car parking spaces and 50 bike spots.

Could add to energy on Baltimore Ave.

There's been so much talk about development up near the 5000 block of Baltimore Ave. in West Philly the past six months, one could almost forget about numerous plans for redevelopment down near the other side of Baltimore, before Clark Park, closer to the 40th Street Portal.

There are plans for the portal itself to be renovated from a 16K sqft concrete trolley station into a green space engineered with green infrastructure, like green roofs, an estimated $3M project, according to numbers reported in the Daily Pennsylvanian, plus there was another public meeting yesterday, hosted by developers U3 Ventures regarding the 92-unit proposal at a long-vacant 43rd & Baltimore lot.

Now, it appears more improvements are on the horizon on this side of Baltimore Ave., as representatives of The City School Spruce Hill campus presented plans to renovate portions of the facade of their structure, an old church at 4115 Baltimore Ave., as well as build a small, very modern looking addition to an older building, to the Spruce Hill Community Association zoning committee at its February meeting.

Azalea Gardens, a graduate student housing complex, is the latest proposal in a long-contested battle over how to redevelop a historic Italianate mansion located at 400 S. 40th St., which is owned by Penn.

Just days after a shooting outside the Watusi Lounge at 46th & Walnut , L&I shut the bar down last month, citing a bad food license as the reason. Gunshots also rang out near the bar back in April.

All winter, we had been wondering what the deal was with a ground-floor retail space at 4100 Chester Ave. in a building that houses a few tenants, including The May School at the University of the Sciences. From what we understand, the space has been vacant for nearly a decade. This fall, however, a Dunkin Donuts will open here.

The space

Though the site is zoned for commercial purposes, a zoning exception was required for take-out. That exception is usually automatic as long as it's not a detriment to the neighborhood, said Spruce Hill Community Association (SHCA) zoning chair Barry Grossbach. SHCA members arranged a meeting between neighbors and the folks opening the Dunkin Donuts in order to discuss the proposal. Neighbors raised some concerns about a chain store, as documented in this Philly Magazine mention. Don't those neighbors know that American runs on Dunkin? What's next, will they want to deny children the right to bring in munchkin Donuts to school on their birthday?

Neighbors in Spruce Hill in West Philadelphia are attempting to build up their organization by offering free membership for new members that join the Spruce Hill Community Association (SHCA) between now and next winter.

Some civic groups charge fees and some don’t. SHCA fees are $20 a year. The group’s more than 300 members provide an annual budget of $6,000 that contributes to the organization's efforts in the community. Current members decided to offer free membership in order to boost the group’s numbers, ostensibly increasing the budget in years to come. Ten new members had joined by early May, according to Rich Guffanti, SCHA’s database coordinator.

Lot at 43rd and Baltimore

“There’s about a dozen things we do with it,” said Guffanti. That includes handling publicity and making the community aware of local development like plans for a 92-unit building at 43rd & Baltimore. When neighbors voiced their concern about a Subway proposal at 45th and Baltimore, the group's budget contributed to community outreach efforts, though the store did eventually open. While the money is not much, for SCHA it serves its purpose.

It’s been over a year since we first told you about it, but now it's official: a new Fine Wine and Good Spirits is coming, likely by midsummer, to 43rd & Chestnut in University City. Two spots in a shopping center that were last occupied by a check cashing store and Risque Video will be combined into a single retail space for the liquor store. The store will feature a more diverse collection of offerings than many other Pennsylvania State Stores.

Future liquor store

“I think the group who will be most excited about it I think, frankly, are the students at the University of Pennsylvania,” said Barry Grossbach, Spruce Hill Community Association chair.