We were making our way down N. 2nd Street in Northern Liberties the other day, and noticed a big new building on the 900 block. We’ve actually written about this property, 966 N. 2nd St., in the past, back in the fall of 2015. At that time, we told you that a long vacant building had just been torn down and that developers had approval to build a new building in its place. We were all kinds of pleased that this building had gotten demoed, it had been blighting the block for as long as we could recall and it also resembled Swamp Thing.
Today, it’s a wildly different world at this location. Developer Shimi Zaken, who has done multiple projects in Northern Liberties, is behind this one as well. The building will have 13 residential units, a veterinary clinic on the first floor, and 8 underground parking spaces. It had to go to NLNA and zoning, but not for the reason you might expect.
If you had to guess, you’d probably say that the building needed a variance for height. But you’d be totally wrong! By right, at that time, the developers could have built a building with exactly the same envelope with 9 apartments, 4 offices on the 2nd floor, and certain types of retail on the first floor. The developers got a variance to make the four office spaces into apartments, and they needed a special exception for the veterinary clinic. But they didn’t need a variance for height.
You might be wondering how such a tall building could be allowed without a variance. The answer is simple and powerful- remapping. This parcel, along with most of the North 2nd Street corridor, is zoned CMX-2.5. This district allows more density than CMX-2, and allows more height as well. For a CMX-2 property, you can build up to 38′ in height. In CMX-2.5, you can go up to 55′. That’s a major difference, pretty much enabling developers to go from three story buildings to five story buildings. This change in what’s permitted makes mixed-use development much more attractive, financially, and should enrich the corridor over time.
Historically, the rest of the corridor had less favorable zoning, and the surrounding buildings reflect that reality. We have to think that as the years roll by, other developers will take advantage of this more favorable zoning designation and we’ll see additional five story buildings rise on 2nd Street. This building may stick out dramatically today, but we don’t think that’ll be the case down the road.