On lower Main Street, after the movie theater, the unfortunate BridgeFive condo building, and the CVS that would fit in nicely in Cherry Hill, stands an old stone building which was originally built as a carriage house for a nearby mansion. In more recent times, the building was home to Forster Auto Repair, a business that was operating until just a few years ago, even though the building didn’t appear to be in such great shape from the outside. Given the size of the building, we would have never guessed that its address, 3811 Main St., is huge, covering almost an acre.
It’s true that this isn’t the heart of Main Street, but you’d think that a parcel of this size would represent a significant redevelopment opportunity. And in the abstract, you’d be correct. A huge parcel on a major commercial corridor does indeed offer significant potential for a higher and better use than an auto repair shop. Then again, the same could be said for most parcels in desirable parts of town, with all due respect to Philadelphia’s hardworking auto mechanics.
This particular property has some fairly significant challenges, however. First, it’s Manayunk, so grade is always a consideration. This property goes uphill quite a bit, continuing up until it hits the Regional Rail tracks. Another consideration in this neighborhood, especially on this part of Main Street, is that pesky Schuylkill River. Part of the property sits in a flood plain, so any development would need to take place several feet off the grade of the street. But perhaps the biggest challenge for this property is its underlying zoning, ICMX. That zoning designation allows for commercial development or industrial development, but any residential use is not allowed without a zoning variance.
A couple years back, the longtime owners of the property came up with a proposal to tear down the building on the site and replace it with a 65-unit apartment building with 60 parking spaces. This project was met with resistance from both neighborhood groups in the area, Manayunk Neighborhood Council and Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association. Per a story on Plan Philly, the community groups opposed residential use at the property and also objected to the proposed height of the project. As we’ve seen with other projects in this part of town, the civic leaders expressed an opinion that their neighborhoods already have enough residents and that additional density isn’t needed. As you might expect given the community opposition, the project got turned down at the ZBA.
We were passing the property the other day though, and spied a demolition notice that dates back only a couple of months. We don’t see a demo permit in public record, nor do we see any other permits at this time, but a demo notice could be a sign that something new could be coming down the pike for this property. Or maybe the owners are looking to clear the parcel before selling it off to someone else. Has anyone in the neighborhood heard any fresh buzz about this parcel? Like we said, there are plenty of higher and better uses than an auto garage at this location, and that’s even more true for a vacant auto garage.