It was almost five years ago (man, we've been doing this awhile) that we told you about plans for three duplexes on the corner of 36th & Wharton in the Forgotten Bottom neighborhood. The properties at 3536-40 Wharton St. were sitting vacant, though neighborhood bar Tony D's had stood there until just a few years earlier. That building looked like three stories of garbage, so it's no shock it got torn down.
Earlier this week, we got word that construction had gotten started here. And we needed to see for ourselves, since we keep expecting to see development in Forgotten Bottom but have found ourselves perpetually disappointed by the slow progress in the neighborhood. And by slow progress, of course, we mean that there's been almost no construction here despite the proximity to West Philadelphia and the easy access to the Pennovation Works. But hey, when we zipped by the properties we did indeed see that there's some construction happening.
The thing about a project getting delayed for five years is that any zoning variance you might have gotten goes away. These lots are zoned for mixed-use commercial, and the former owners got a variance to build duplexes that has now lapsed. Rather than going back to the ZBA, the developers are building three mixed-use buildings, each with retail on the first floor and two apartments above. We have to think that these three retail spaces will never ever contain stores, but that the developers will go to the ZBA post-construction and ask to convert them into apartments. And they'll almost definitely get relief, because who wants to open a business in a tiny commercial space at 36th & Wharton. Nobody, that's who.
Is this a sign that we'll soon see more development in this neighborhood? There sure is enough vacant land to make it happen. Stay tuned, maybe Forgotten Bottom will be the next big thing. Or maybe we'll be saying this again in five years.