In many parts of the city, the rowhome is the standard housing unit and is part of what makes Philadelphia the “City of Neighborhoods,” as the saying goes. This is mostly due to the city’s zoning code, which determines what is permitted to be built in given areas. We won’t go into all of the exciting details for each category, but we can tell you that a height limit of 38 feet covers most residential categories, at least in the majority of places where people live. When folks living in homes zoned for an allowable height of 38 feet accused a 38-foot tall building at 6717 Chew Ave. in East Mt. Airy of being “towering,” we figure there must be more involved. Gather ’round, it’s story time!

Let’s go back to December 2020, when plans for a 37-unit apartment building were presented to the East Mt. Airy Neighbors, a necessity due to the car-focused CA-1 zoning of the property. Formerly home to Kingdom Car Care, the lot has been out of use since 2012 and features a low-rise building, plenty of concrete, and some overgrown landscaping. This sits directly to the southeast of the Pleasant Playground, directly across Slocum Street, which serves as a wonderful community gathering space.

View of the former Kingdom Car Care from Chew Avenue
View from the corner of Chew & Slocum
View of the back of the property not adding much to the area
Pleasant Playground immediately to the west across Slocum

While we appreciate the service that the car care center provided, this lot hasn’t added anything to the area for a decade. Oh, and the land that it sits on is also contaminated – hardly what one would want next to a playground. However, near neighbors came out in opposition to this project, saying the building will loom over neighbors and the pool at the playground. The pushback against this Audax Homes project even led to the creation of a Neighbors of 6717 Chew Ave. page and a demonstration to oppose the plans. In spite of these concerns and the previous zoning refusal, the ZBA granted the request in June 2021, citing the current underuse of the property and alignment with the Philadelphia2035 comprehensive master plan. As you may have guessed, we find this proposal much preferred to its decrepit present and car-focused past. So what is to come? Let’s check out the plans and some renderings below.

An aerial of 6717 Chew Avenue
Site plan shows building layout and parking access
Elevations show what to expect from both Chew and Slocum
Rendering of the building from the Chew Avenue side
View from the corner of Chew & Slocum
Close up of residential entrance and lobby (Go Birds)

Building permits were issued in December of last year, so we expect things to move forward soon. 37 apartments will soon come to this corner, along with 21 car spaces and 12 bicycle spaces. The rectangular massing is broken up by the ample windows and beige bricks on the upper floors, forming a modern and attractive addition to the neighborhood. Oh, and the building will top out at a whopping 38 feet, as you may have gathered by now. In our mind, this is a very appropriate project for the area as it doesn’t exactly dominate the skyline. If anything, it isn’t tall enough!

Had rowhomes been proposed here (assuming zoning approval), the maximum height would be exactly the same. Had the developers pursued a by-right auto-centric development, they could have built a new building that rose… 38 feet! Like so many other protests against multi-family development, we believe that this opposition had nothing to do with height and everything to do with density and parking. Once the building gets built though, it’s our hope that the neighbors come around and see the benefit to having additional eyes on the street and a handsome apartment building instead of an empty, overgrown lot.