Change Coming to Vacant Fishtown Church

Passing by the former East Baptist Church at 1236 E. Columbia Ave., you wouldn't think twice about it. It's a nice looking building architecturally, though it looks like it needs a little TLC. If you live nearby though, you know the building has been vacant for years, ever since the non-profit that owned it went bankrupt. According to a two-year old thread on Fishtown.us, neighbors were trying to get the property forced to sheriff's sale, and they apparently succeeded last summer. Metal Green Inc purchased the building for $385K- much less than the asking price of $1.4M when the propertly was listed for sale back in 2008.

Old church on Columbia Ave.

Yesterday, a reader gave us the heads up that they received a notification letter from the property owners regarding an upcoming RCO meeting about the property. According to the letter, the developers intend to convert the building into fifteen apartment units. They need a zoning variance because the 7,200 sqft property is inappropriately zoned for a single family home. If the property were zoned for multi-family, they would be allowed sixteen units by right, so asking for fifteen units seems completely appropriate. We imagine that they will get some near neighbor pushback due to a lack of parking, but parking just isn't possible for this site if they're saving the building.

And while we're on the subject, let's offer some major kudos for the developers for proposing a plan that reuses the existing building! At their purchase price, they could easily tear down the church and building six new construction homes with parking and make a killing. You know, like many other developers in other neighborhoods. But instead they're going the reuse route, maintaining architectural diversity in the neighborhood and increasing density close to the Frankford and East Girard corridors. Hopefully the neighborhood supports their efforts, and so does the ZBA. It would be a crying shame to see any roadblocks before what looks like a winner of a project.

Of course, if their presentation to the neighborhood reveals any details that make us feel otherwise, we reserve the right to change our mind. But for now at least, we're giving it a big thumbs up.

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