spruce hill community association

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.

A vacant corner at 43rd & Sansom in Spruce Hill will soon be transformed when a four-story 32-unit mixed-use project will be constructed. Work may begin as early as this spring, with the ZBA having approved the project in last month. “It’s a very dark corner in Spruce Hill,” said Spruce Hill Community Association (SHCA) zoning chair Barry Grossbach. “Our thought is that it could bring some light to the area.” SCHA approved the project in February.

The gateway to the Baltimore Avenue business corridor may soon be transformed. On March 12th, developers received a conditional use permit for the construction of a ninety-two unit apartment building at the southeast corner of 43rd and Baltimore across the street from Clark Park and the Green Line Café.

The vacant lot

Located at 4224-26 Baltimore Ave., the lot is zoned for residential multi-family and is intended to accommodate moderate- to high-density, multi-unit residential buildings. At present, the lot is vacant and overgrown, and was the subject of our musings last March. In 2008, Clarkmore LP, a part New York-based of Thylan Associates, purchased the property for $3.5M. In 2009, owners tore down a historic building located at the site that previously housed a school and women’s shelter. It's sat fenced off and dejected since.

Birds. They might be our link to the dinosaurs. That aside, something of an unexpected sanctuary for the winged creatures was created in the past two years in the Spruce Hill neighborhood of West Philadelphia. It’s located behind an almost hidden path. We visited and worried that we were walking into someone’s backyard.

Hidden entrance is next to this house

But we were walking into the Spruce Hill Bird Sanctuary, a creative adaption of land left over from development. And it might be the most lively adaption of land by neighbors that we’ve chanced upon in recent memory (with apologies to the Magic Gardens). There’s the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge, but that’s a large park. The Spruce Hill Bird Sanctuary is an unassuming strip of land behind backyard around 45th and Locust Streets, with an entrance constructed at 233 Melville S. St. The entrance path is located right next to a home’s front steps. Behind a strip of Victorians, neighbors have collaborated to provide bird’s a safe haven from the concrete city.

It seems logical that with a 21 percent increase in the 20- to 34-year-old population over the past dozen years in University City, and more than three dozen new businesses opening their doors in the area in 2011 alone, there is an increased demand on the public transit system that serves the area. The 34 and 13 trolleys are staples of the West Philly experience in the neighborhoods west of the 40th Street Portal.

The portal

University City District recently announced plans to renovate and transform the portal, out of which the 11, 13, 34 and 36 trolleys all head down different westbound routes, into a greened and pedestrian friendly plaza.

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