Though it may seem these days like everyone and their brother is a real estate developer, it’s actually a pretty risky way to make a living. As we’ve described many times over the years, the zoning process introduces a tremendous amount of risk to any development, adding a layer of community involvement and political input from District Councilpeople that increases timelines and generally leads to lower density, increased parking demands, less height, and diminished commercial activity. We aren’t saying that we reject all types of community input, to be clear- after all, the near neighbors need to live with any development that comes down the pike in their part of town. But unfortunately, the default position in many neighborhoods in Philadelphia tends to skew toward NIMBYism, even for reasonable projects. Change is hard, we get it.
Given the challenges posed by the zoning process, it’s no surprise that developers skew toward pursuing by-right projects. As a result, we often see projects that offer less than we might prefer to see, as developers look to avoid dealing with community meetings and a trip to the ZBA. One fine example is the upcoming mixed-use project at 416 W. Girard Ave., a property that’s been used for industrial purposes for the last several decades. But alas, American Metals Corp. has moved on, and the building on the property will soon get demolished. In its place, look for a three-story building with commercial use on the first floor, and six apartments upstairs.
Undoubtedly, this project will represent an improvement over the one-story cinderblock building that we see on the site today. But we still find ourselves wanting more, specifically in the form of another story or two. Girard is super wide, it has great access to public transportation, and this block is in a part of town that’s really in demand with buyers and renters. Wouldn’t more height and density be a desirable outcome for the property?
Alas, the property is zoned CMX-2, which only allows for limited height and density, and any more units would require a variance. We’d argue that most of Girard should be remapped to CMX-2.5, which would increase the height and density permitted by right. You may recall, we’ve made a similar recommendation on Point Breeze Avenue, as a means to stimulate infill development on that depressed commercial corridor. This section of Girard is fortunately in a better place than most blocks of Point Breeze Avenue, but as long as it maintains its current zoning designation, we suspect we’ll continue to see projects along the corridor that coulda shoulda woulda brought a little more to the table.