After grabbing a curbside coffee at Steap and Grind the other day, we were heading up the 1400 block of E. Columbia for like two seconds before we noticed a new building had appeared on the block at some point over the last few months. We needed to go back a few years in the Google Maps Street View time machine to remember that a shoddy looking industrial building stood here previously. We can’t swear to it, but we suspect the building was once associated with the Brownhill & Kramer Hosiery Mill, which was once located around the corner on Memphis Street.

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In the past
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The Chesterman building, up Memphis Street

As you may or may not remember, the old factory was sitting vacant and blighted for a number of years until it was converted into apartments a few years back. It’s now called the Chesterman and it looks terrific. Another industrial building which we believe was associated with the mill was slated to become a City Fitness location, but neighborhood parking concerns scuttled that plan, and that’s why there’s a City Fitness a few blocks away on Frankford instead. Instead of a renovation into a gym, the developers built a row of five rather handsome homes here, all of which sold in 2016 in the mid to high $500K range. Surely these homes would sell for more if they were built today.

Great homes at Memphis & E. Columbia - construction next door
Closer look

As you can see, the aforementioned new building under construction at 1421 E. Columbia Ave. is next to those attractive homes and around the corner from the hosiery turned apartment building. Perhaps inspired by that project, this building will likewise offer apartments, as you might expect. According to the project website, there will be 17 units and 5 parking spots, and the developers are calling the building “The Columbia.”

Looking at the original application, we see the project originally called for 16 units and some “industrial” but actually commercial space in the front on the first floor. Somewhere along the way, it seems they were able to replace the industrial use with an extra apartment. This is extremely relevant because the building, in all its five-story glory, is being built by right, thanks to its industrial-residential zoning designation, left over from when it was associated with the formerly industrial buildings next door. If it were simply zoned multi-family, it would only be a maximum of four stories tall.

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Project rendering

We think that an extra unit makes way more sense than an industrial use here anyway, so we don’t have an issue with the change. And frankly, since we’re always arguing for more height and density, we’re far more jazzed to see this five-story building appear instead of a typical three or four story structure. For a change, totally inappropriate zoning produced a win- it’s just unfortunate that we encounter this phenomenon so infrequently. And of course, we see the opposite all the time.

Paging Phila2035