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.
Recently, a reader tipped us off about some new construction taking place at 1231-33 N. 2nd St., which sits just half a block north of Girard Avenue. These parcels were previously vacant for years, owned by the church next door since the 1970s. Needless to say, the church wouldn't have been able to get a combined $190K for these lots back then.
Foundations are in
Church previously owned the lots
In case the title of this post wasn't a dead giveaway, the construction we see today will eventually mean two triplexes on this site. This project, designed by Harman Deutsch, is being done by right, a seemingly rare case of the zoning being appropriate for the lot size and location. Looking up the block, it seems that many other properties are also split into multiple units.
We're starting to feel like a broken record- there's more mixed-use development coming to Frankford Avenue. Last month, the Fishtown Neighbors Association supported developers' plans to build a mixed-use building with ground floor commercial at 2325 Frankford Ave. near the East Kensington border.
Lot on Frankford Ave.
They'll build on an empty lot on a block that has a few vacant parcels strung in between homes and other mixed-use buildings. In the future this block could have more potential if those remaining lots get built up. It's already gotten some action in the last couple of years, with the appearances of Pizza Brain and Little Baby's Ice Cream. If the auto garage across the street were to get redeveloped, it would be even better. In addition to the Frankford Ave. building, the developers will build a single family home that fronts Collins Street.
We've seen so many changes in Francisville in the last few years, with quite a bit of development centered around 19th & Poplar. A mere block away from this transformed intersection, we came upon a little infill project that's currently getting way more sunlight than it deserves. Previously, 843-45 Cameron St. was a double-wide garage on a narrow street. The street remains the same; the property, not so much.
In the past
Now under construction
According to permits, the developers, MJL Properties, have added a story (duh), and will use the property for four apartments. This conversion makes perfect sense, as residential demand has grown in Francisville, especially closer to the Fairmount border.
Looking at the photo above, you'll notice a huge vacant lot in the foreground. This is surely convenient for the developers, as it gives their trucks and dumpster ample room to stretch out. It will likewise be lovely for the people who eventually move into these units, who will get an above-average amount of natural light thanks to the lack of homes across the street. It's not as great for the neighborhood. We've actually covered this lot on a few previous occasions.