Oh how our hearts weep for the project at 1601 Washington. For those who are unfamiliar, 1601 Washington Ave. is currently a vacant lot that sits in front of the Big 8 Supermarket. Last year, developers came forward with a plan to build a five story building on the lot with thirty-five apartments and a large corner commercial space. The project went through the ringer, with a zoning hearing that lasted over three hours (we were there), and considerable hand wringing before the Planning Commission offered their support. But finally, last February, the project got approval from the ZBA and seemed like it was on the path to construction.
One obstruction remained, and that was an appeal to the variance from the owners of the supermarket who were unsurprisingly not stoked about a large building blocking views of their business and are probably still miffed that they've lost half of their parking lot. Neither of those reasons, we should add, mean that the ZBA's decision ought to be overturned and we figured that it would only be a matter of time before the case wound its way through the courts and eventually got thrown out. Much to our surprise, quite the opposite happened. According to Philadelinquency, the Court of Common Pleas overturned the variance!
As it currently stands, the project sits in limbo. From what we can tell, it will either be sent back to the ZBA or it will get appealed again to a higher court, this time by the developers. But why has this happened?
economy zoning, stupid.
The image above shows Washington Avenue west of Broad Street. What you see is that, with the exception of a couple of blocks of homes, the corridor is zoned exclusively for industrial use. While this was appropriate just a few decades ago, this doesn't come close to reflecting the reality on Washington Avenue today. Sure, there's some light industrial use to be found, but for the most part Washington Avenue is a commercial corridor, and its future is clearly mixed-use in nature.
Unfortunately, as long as the properties on the corridor maintain their current zoning designations, the horizon for that future remains in the distance. An appeal has set back 1601 Washington, and it seems possible it could scrap the project altogether. What are the developers at 2401 Washington supposed to think after seeing the legal result just eight blocks away? Those guys should probably run for the hills rather than go through the zoning process and then get whacked in the courts. And on the other side of the coin, a storage facility is coming to 2300 Washington Ave. and it's happening by right.
Sure, there are many different stakeholders that need to be heard like SOSNA, WAPOA, and various Point Breeze groups, but Washington Avenue needs to get remapped yesterday. Rather than lump both sides of the corridor in with the Central District Plan, remapping has punted it to the South District Plan which is only now getting a second public meeting on February 9th. That plan's at least a year away, we'd imagine. And meanwhile worthwhile projects like 1601 Washington get the shaft, 2401 Washington has a new sense of uncertainty, and Washington Avenue itself remains a moat between neighborhoods.
It's just a shame, folks, for so many reasons.