If you’ve traveled up Ridge Avenue through Sharswood any time recently, you might have noticed that the Philadelphia Housing Authority has completed their new headquarters, covering the bulk of the triangular block surrounded by Ridge Avenue, 20th Street, and Jefferson Street. While this building isn’t exactly an example of peak urbanism, it’s still a step up for this property, which was sitting vacant for a very long time. Speaking of vacant land, there’s still no shortage in this area, with the adjacent 2051 Ridge Ave. offering over an acre of green grass and absolutely no buildings. But that should change very soon.

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PHA headquarters, viewed from Jefferson Street
Big vacant lot across the street

Roughly three years ago, we shared the news that this parcel was getting developed. Specifically, we learned that a Save-A-Lot supermarket would be opening here, in a building constructed by PHA. And we were quite pleased to hear about this plan, given the distance of other markets from this location and the growing local population base, thanks to the ongoing PHA Sharswood/Blumberg Redevelopment Initiative. We didn’t have any other information at the time, but we assumed that the redevelopment of this parcel would entail more than the simple construction of a supermarket, given its size. Sure, a supermarket can never have too much surface parking, but at a certain point you have to figure that there would be other buildings on the site. And now, thanks to the magic of Civic Design Review, we’ve learned that our suspicions were true and this project will indeed include some additional elements. First, here are renderings of the proposed development, with credit to Wulff Architects.

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Aerial rendering
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Another view from above
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Yet another aerial view
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Rendering from street level

PHA is building four different structures at this site. Fronting 20th Street will be an apartment building with a total of 29 units. Right behind these units will be the building that contains the supermarket, which will also include an urgent care and 190 parking spaces over three stories. The Ridge Avenue side of the property will also include two buildings, with a public plaza in between them. The northern building will have 8,400 sqft of retail and 36 apartments, while the southern building will contain 6,000 sqft of retail and 27 apartments. The space between the eastern buildings and the western buildings will be… a surface parking lot with space for another 150 cars.

There are certainly aspects of this project that we appreciate. As we said, a supermarket is a worthy addition to the area, and the same can be said about a new urgent care. We’re also happy that there will be some residential elements to the development, with a total of 92 new apartments being constructed. The public plaza is a nice touch, and we’re hopeful that some quality businesses will occupy the available retail spaces in the buildings on Ridge.

But of course, we have some complaints too. We mentioned that the PHA HQ isn’t a wonderful example of urbanism, and the same applies for this project. Needless to say, a huge surface parking lot isn’t what we look for with a project that covers a whole city block. Further, affordable housing is such a huge need in Philadelphia, and we would have liked to see much more density at this address. Another story or two on the buildings would certainly be a positive step, with another idea being the elimination of some of the parking lot in favor of additional buildings.

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Site plan for proposed Mantua market

At the risk of using an unbuilt project as an example, we would encourage you to refresh your memory on the planned grocery store for Mantua at 37th & Haverford (which is also going to CDR next month!). The original site plan for that project called for a few commercial buildings and a sea of surface parking. Things changed over time, and the latest iteration has a small section of surface parking and a ton of density. We recognize that the PHA supermarket project is probably too far along to change gears, but we would have liked to see something closer to the Mantua model than the project that looks certain to appear on Ridge. Ultimately, when we consider the reality that we live in a city that actively seeks to limit density and encourages parking at the expense of desirable urban design, fewer apartments and 340 parking spaces doesn’t feel surprising in any way, shape or form.