Back in May, we first told you about plans for a large new mixed-use development at 1601 Washington Ave., currently a portion of the parking lot for the Big 8 Supermarket. Then, over the summer, we had some additional info and elevations drawings to share after the developers presented to a supportive SOSNA. In October, we attended the three hour (!) zoning hearing for this project, but neglected to write about it because thinking too much more about that hearing would have given us night terrors. Around 9pm, as the hearing was drawing to a close, the ZBA took the very unusual step of holding their decision until the applicants could present to the Planning Commission. That presentation finally took place yesterday.

At yesterday's Planning Commission hearing, the issue at hand was whether residential was appropriate for Washington Avenue moving forward. As part of the Phila2035 planning and remapping process, almost all of Washington Avenue west of Broad is slated to be remapped as ICMX, a zoning classification that permits light industrial as well as commercial uses by right, but doesn't allow residential. As such, the Planning Commission staff recommendation was to reject the mixed-use plan for this site. The attorney for the developers presented a case that residential is the direction that Washington Avenue is headed, and that perhaps the planned remapping should be reexamined. His case was bolstered by a line of property owners on Washington Avenue, all of whom supported the project. Many of them own commercial properties that they can't rent out because the demand simply isn't there.

Representatives from SOSNA also chimed in, suggesting that mixed-use on Washington Avenue is the only way that a vibrant commercial corridor can exist there. They cited safety issues, mentioning that more people living on Washington Avenue would create more eyes on the street. They also expressed a desire to work with the Planning Commission and Phila2035 to take a closer look at planning Washington Avenue so that the new zoning for this important corridor can be fully vetted and be as appropriate as it can be.

The project also had some detractors. The supermarket behind the proposed development hired an attorney who asked the Planning Commission to only support a development that would be "appropriate" for the location. He stated that the supermarket understood that some development would be coming to this location, but didn't really explain why they opposed the residential aspect of the project. A Point Breeze neighbor said that there's been too much residential development in the area already, and that this would create more density which would be a bad thing. Finally, a representative from an issue-based RCO in the SOSNA neighborhood gave the tried and true "we weren't notified about the project" refrain, and opposed the project in the hopes that Amazon or UPS would build a warehouse on the site.

After about over a dozen people gave their thoughts, the Planning Commission deliberated for a good twenty minutes. For awhile, it was tough to tell which way they were going to rule. Finally, one of the members of the Commission offered up a motion supporting the variance for the project with the caveat that it would not necessarily mean support for any future residential on Washington Avenue or any changes to the remapping. This motion was supported unanimously.

Now, it's back to the ZBA. One would have to think that they will vote in favor of the project, given the favorable recommendation from the Planning Commission. We sure hope they do, and we likewise hope that this project is a big step toward Washington Avenue's redevelopment. And if it means we don't have to attend any more meetings about this particular project, well that's all the better.