There’s drama brewing in Rittenhouse, thanks to a developer’s plans at the southwest corner of 20th & Waverly. Kim’s Cleaners has been operating at this corner, out of 414 S. 20th St., for as long as we can remember, in a squat building that we believe to be a repurposed garage. Maybe the business owners are looking to retire or maybe they’re just looking to take advantage of their valuable real estate asset, as they listed their property for sale at the end of last year, surely sparking interest from many developers. Shortly before the cleaners property was listed, the owners of the adjacent 418 S. 20th St. listed their home for sale, setting up the possibility of combining the two properties into something a little more substantial.

Current view

It should come as no shock that developers snatched up 418 S. 20th St. and also put 414 S. 20th St. under agreement with an eye toward consolidating the properties. Said developers were able to procure a by-right permit for a mixed-use five-story building with a grocery store on the first floor, four condo units on the upper floors, and underground parking. This building will rise 60′, which may sound like it’s too tall for a by-right permit. The developers are, however, utilizing two different zoning bonuses that are allowing them the additional height by right.

The first bonus is the “affordable housing” bonus, which is requiring them to pay some money into the housing trust fund, but provides an extra 7′ of height. The other is the “fresh food” bonus, which allows developers an extra 15′ of height if they include a grocery store selling fresh foods on the first floor of a mixed-use building. 38′ is the typical by-right height, but 15 plus 7 gives them the extra 22′ they need to build a 60′ building. Seems pretty simple, right?

But several folks in the neighborhood are none too pleased. A few dozen neighbors showed up at the ZBA yesterday to appeal the by-right permits, with the hearing stretching over a couple hours before being continued to a second hearing several weeks from now. The general complaint seems to be that the building is too tall for the location, which sounds fairly reasonable when you consider that the homes in the area are generally half the size of the proposed building. That being said, the building is maybe two stone’s throws away from Rittenhouse Square, so we don’t see the big deal about a comparatively tall building at this central urban location. And when you consider the fact that the project is moving forward by right, we don’t imagine the people fighting against it will prevail in the end.

Large home on the NW corner

Assuming the building ultimately gets built, the condo units will sell for a pretty penny. Across the street is a huge home that’s currently listed for sale for just under $3M, so maybe these units will sell for a little more than half that? As for whether a small grocery store will find success at this location, we aren’t sure, given the presence of Palm Tree Market just across the street. But given the extra story that the market has allowed the developers to include, it’s a no brainer on their end either way.

As for people troubled by this project, they would probably be cheered to learn that the fresh food bonus is now changed to require grocery stores of at least 5,000 sqft, so any developments taking advantage of the bonus in the future will be much larger. Not that this changes anything at 20th & Waverly, where the permits were pulled before the code was changed. As a result, we expect the ZBA will eventually uphold the permit and we’ll see the mixed-use building get built as proposed.