The 700 block of Latona Street isn’t one of the more traversed blocks in the city, so you can be forgiven if you’ve never found yourself there. Having lived around the corner roughly a decade ago, we’ve been on this block plenty, and it’s 80% a standard South Philly block, with a mix of two-story and three story homes.
You wouldn’t describe the other 20% of the block as standard in South Phily, or in any other part of town. 706-24 Latona St. was never part of the residential fabric of the neighborhood, housing a pottery factory in the 19th and into the middle of the 20th century. The pottery business either closed or moved away, leaving a sizable parcel ripe for redevelopment just a couple blocks from Pat’s and Geno’s. Sometime in the 1990s, three homes were built right in the middle of the parcel, and those homes are still around today.
In the late 1990s, the owners of the parcel came around with plans to redevelop the rest of the property. Those plans called for two homes and a drive-aisle entrance on Wharton Street, three homes on the western side of the property to mirror the existing homes, and seven garage-front homes on Latona Street. That project never came to fruition, with the exception of two homes getting built on Wharton Street and the space that called for a drive-aisle getting filled by a third home. So the three homes (which were combined into two homes somewhere along the line) have continued to sit, with the occupants of the homes benefiting from what must be the largest front yard in South Philly. And they took advantage of the space, using it for parking, a small playground, a “zen garden,” and of course, a koi pond.
Roughly two years ago, we brought this property to your attention, noting that the 13K sqft property was listed for sale for $2.2M. At the time, we felt like the price a bit high, but given the limited supply of large lots in this part of town, we figured that a developer would eventually come forward with a plan to build a bunch of homes here. We issued a warning though, that any project with a chance at profitability would require a zoning variance. Perhaps because of the zoning risk or maybe the high price, it took some time for someone to put the property under contract. Developer Maxwell Bassman eventually came forward, wisely opting for a zoning contingency.
The developer first presented plans to Passyunk Square Civic Association for a twelve-home development, but ran into opposition from the community. He reduced the unit count to eleven and eventually to ten, but was never able to gain the support of the neighborhood. Even though he reduced the density, the objections to the project were less related to that issue than the fact that the new homes would eliminate a unique “green space” in the area and that the project was oriented along a drive-aisle, meaning that the homes in the project would only interact with the block on a limited basis. Given the objections of the community, we thought that the project had no shot at the ZBA.
But something funny happened at the ZBA hearing last week. According to a story from Plan Philly, the ZBA ultimately approved the development. This result is certainly a surprise to us, and is likely a shock to some near neighbors that showed up at the hearing to express their opposition. For now, there’s a clear path for this project to move forward, but Plan Philly indicates there’s still a chance that neighbors might appeal the project, which could tie it up in litigation for some time or sink the whole thing. Nobody knows which way it’ll go at this point, so stay tuned in the months (and maybe years) to come.