In West Philly, change has finally occurred on the southwest corner of 46th & Sansom, a parcel that has been vacant for many years. A little over a year ago, we noticed the beginnings of construction activity at this site, and mentioned plans for six quadplexes. Last winter, it looked like the project was stalled, though we were pleased to see some blighted buildings getting torn down across the street.
Now a vacant lot on the southeast corner
Last month, West Philly Local reported that building was happening on the southwest corner, with a flatbed dropping off modular sections of new buildings. The project is called Sansom Street Flats, and has changed somewhat since our original report. Instead of quadplexes, it's triplexes. Like much of the construction in West Philadelphia in recent years, the architecture won't really do justice to the existing buildings in the neighborhood. We wish the developers would have opted for something that looked like the buildings that once stood here but that was probably a pipe dream.
A few years ago, the tide of development started flowing across Washington Avenue, and new homes appeared on blocks like Ellsworth, Federal, and Latona Streets. But there wasn't a whole lot happening south of Wharton Street, at least in the western sections of Point Breeze. More recently, we've seen a serious bump in construction south of Wharton, with many projects in the ground and some more still to come. Today we look at the 1700 block of Dickinson Street, where three homes are currently under construction and at least one more should follow soon.
Two new homes are under construction
The southeast corner of 18th & Dickinson has been vacant since at least 2007 per Google Maps, and we're guessing for many years before that as well. If you visit the corner today, you'll see two new homes under construction. Emerald Properties bought the three lots on the corner a couple of years ago and now they're redeveloping the properties. The corner lot is zoned commercial and has approvals for a first floor commercial space and an apartment above. They have an application to the ZBA to build a single-family home, but whether they get approval remains to be seen.
The Northern Liberties Neighbors Association recently supported plans for a single-family home at 456-58 Myrtle St., with a request for adding more open space, according to zoning chair Larry Freedman. But the ZBA rejected the plans from developer Tom Cohen and architect Ed Fink at Fusa Designs. Right now, they are adjusting their plans, Freedman said. Fink echoed those comments, saying the reason they were denied by ZBA was for height, and that they would reduce the height in the new plans. The developers acquired the now vacant parcel, located across the street from the parking lot of another modern style Northern Liberties development, last October.
At 1720 Fairmount Ave., what was for years a storage lot for building materials like brick and stone is now a framed out four-story building. When it's finished, it will include 18 new apartments and complete one of the closing paragraphs of the tale about redevelopment along Fairmount Avenue.
In the past
It's been a couple of years in the making, and seeing this project get some legs, and then a torso, as it was framed, shows developers are looking to get people living in the building sometime this year.
For as long as we can remember, the corner of 36th & Sansom has been vacant. This parcel, on Penn's campus and across the street from the bookstore, hasn't been some unkempt lot like so many we've seen around town, but it's still been a curious vacancy at a high-traffic corner.
In the past
Recently, a student reached out, notifying us that a fence had appeared around the property. Naturally, we set out to learn what's going on.
A story from last month's Philadelphia Business Journal provided the answer. According to the PBJ, this is part of a $77.6M project that will eventually result in the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics. Not only is Penn building a new structure on the corner, but they're also totally renovating the West Philadelphia Title and Trust Co. building, which will be connected to the new building. The design work on the project was done by KPMB Architects.
A year and a half ago, we visited the intersection of 12th & Spring Garden and noted the vacancy at both the southeast and southwest corners. Today, it's pretty much the same story. On the southwest corner, there's a burned out gas station. On the southeast corner there's a huge vacant triangular parcel that used to be a lumber yard, and before that a brass works.
Blighted gas station
The big lot
Unfortunately, it seems like it's status quo for the old gas station. As for the lot across the street, times could be changing. The other day, a reader gave us the heads up that the property was recently posted for sheriff's sale. According to the Sheriff's website, the property is on the list for March 17th Tax Collection Sale. This makes sense, because the property owners currently owe almost $95K in property taxes. Looking at the reporting from the Revenue Department though, it seems the owners may be paying down their debt which would either postpone or cancel the sheriff's sale.
Across the street from Rittenhouse Square sits one of Philadelphia's most prominent and embarrassing vacant lots. Once upon a time, the Rittenhouse Eric Theater made its home on the north side of the 1900 block of Walnut Street. When the hundred year old historic brownstone-turned-office next door caught fire in 1994, the damage to the theater resulted in its demolition. The lot has been vacant ever since aside from a temporary use as a PHS pop-up in 2012.
From a few years back but it still pretty much looks like this
Over the years, the property has seen a collection of possible projects come and go. It's a particular challenge because the parcel is also tied to several properties on Sansom Street including the mysterious Rittenhouse Coffee Shop (long vacant), the empty seven story Warwick building (shuttered since 2003), and the Oliver H. Bair funeral home. We covered the collection of proposals for this site years ago, including the plan for a parking garage with restaurant and movie theater from the PPA, a concept from Michael Singer in 2004, and another idea from Castleway, the current owners, in 2008. Clearly, none of those things happened.
It's always fun and interesting for us to check out projects that we cover during construction, seeing how things turn out in the end. Sometimes renderings are spot on and other times, the project turns out a little different than what we expected. When we passed 2147-51 E. Sergeant St. last week, we were reminded that we initially told you about this project back in the fall of 2013. At that time, two of three homes were under construction at a location that had been vacant for quite some time.
In the past
The developers initially wanted garage-front homes, but faced opposition from the community. So they opted to build by-right. The design choice that they made (we're pretty sure it actually wasn't required) was to build the first two floors to the same height as the adjacent three story home, and then to set back the third floors of the new homes. They stuck a spiral staircase outside to provide access to the rooftop deck. The results are, ah, interesting.
Development in Fishtown is shuffling towards its borders as parcels near Aramingo Ave. have been getting attention in recent months. But developers with plans to build six townhomes at 2631-35 E Norris St. will have to amend their project if they want community support.
The long empty lot
At a community meeting last month, neighbors thought six homes on three lots was too many, according to Matt Karp, Fishtown Neighbors Association zoning chair. Currently, the parcel is a large fenced-in vacant lot with some big trees. The size of said trees suggests that the lot has been this way for many years. Gator Properties acquired the parcel for $350K in 2004 along with the home next door, used as a rental property ever since. Clearly, the developers have been biding their time with this lot.
In Fishtown, neighbors recently voted in opposition to a project that would nearly double the density allowed by right at 1019-23 E Columbia Ave., and it wasn't even close. At a Fishtown Neighbors Association zoning meeting earlier this month, neighbors voted 2-39 not to support plans to convert a parcel under the heels of I-95 into nine new homes and three new duplexes—a total of 15 units
Zoning notice at the parcel
Designed by KJO Architecture, original plans called for the demolition of a warehouse set back near fifty feet Columbia's intersection with Salmon St. just before the I-95 overpass. As it were, the plans envisioned a Salmon Street fronting, which would have allowed developers to fit twelve new structures on an area that, according to Matt Karp, FNA zoning chair, is by right, suited for six or seven houses. Karp estimates that number by taking the total square footage of the lot—about 9700 sqft if you add up the size according to OPA numbers—and dividing it by the size allotted by the zoning code designation that applies to the property—1440 sqft—and you get seven (if you round up). The increased density waved a red flag among neighbors.
“The community didn't understand why they're doubling the amount of density that's allowed,” Karp said. He added that it was a large site, that could nicely accommodate six houses.