The shopping center at the northeast corner of 2nd & Christian sticks out like a sore thumb at this Queen Village corner. After all, this neighborhood is one of the gems of Philadelphia in terms of architecture, and is home to countless beautiful townhomes and numerous examples of older buildings that have been restored and reused over the years. The neighborhood isn’t a local historic district like Society Hill to the north, even though it was listed on the National Historic Register back in the 1970s. Instead, it’s considered a Neighborhood Conservation District, which creates additional requirements through the Zoning Code, employing the Planning Commission and the local community group to enforce certain design standards on new construction in the area.
The Neighborhood Conservation District is relatively new standard, coming into effect in 2008, and the shopping center was constructed sometime in the mid to late 1980s, long before any of these rules came into effect. We suspect that the Planning Commission and the community would have had some pretty strong opinions about the building back in the day, but we suspect it was constructed by right. To their credit, whoever built the building was perhaps trying to echo historic architecture in the neighborhood with the gabled roof- but we’re sorry to say it’s a bit of a swing and miss.
We’ve been jonesing for this building to be improved or torn down and replaced for a long time, or at least since 7-11 replaced Wawa a number of years ago. In 2016 we shared news of an upcoming project here, with plans to build a two-story addition to the property, adding fourteen apartments upstairs and maintaining the ground floor retail and the surface parking lot. This certainly felt like a step in the right direction, though we would have preferred something taller and denser and without a bunch of parking spots. For better or worse though, the plans never moved forward.
After a five-year pause, we discovered a new plan for the property earlier this year. The new proposal again called for a two-story addition, but doubled the unit count to 28 and eliminated the parking. This felt like a much improved plan, and we were even able to grab a rendering of the proposal from Harman Deutsch Ohler which shows the impact of the Neighborhood Conservation District, with multiple architectural details which would tie the new building into the historic context of the neighborhood. Hooray for a cornice!
But this plan was also lacking, from where we sit, due to the height of the new building. This property is almost 15K sqft in size and sits at the corner of two relatively wide streets. Just last month, we complained that the new three-story apartment building coming to 3rd & Christian felt like a missed opportunity because it should, objectively, be a four story building and include additional density. That project came with certain challenges though, because the property was zoned for single-family use and it therefore required a zoning variance to move forward.
With mixed-use commercial zoning at 2nd & Christian, it’s a bit of a different story. The permitted height is still 38′ in this zoning district, but there’s a mixed-income bonus available that allows the developers to add height and density to build a more appropriate project for this corner. And thankfully, that’s exactly what’s happening here, and the developers have revised their proposal to take advantage of the bonus to add a 4th floor and increase the density to 42 units. Check it out:
This project looks good and seems extremely likely to move forward. Finally, this corner will lose this shopping center and pivot toward what we would argue is the highest and best use at this location. We’ll call it a home run… with the potential for a grand slam in the unlikely event Wawa tags back in for the commercial space.