Visit the intersection of 17th & Master sometime, and you’ll see a swath of vacant land on the southwest corner that’s just 36 feet shy of the length of a football field. This expanse of open space contains 12 different properties, and experience would suggest that some or all of these lots are owned by either the Philadelphia Housing Authority or one of a few City agencies. So you can imagine our surprise when we learned that none of these lots are owned by a government agency, but in fact all of them are privately owned. Most of them were owned by the same party for the last decade plus, but for whatever reason this developer opted to sell off 1710-18 W. Master St. a couple years back, raking in $700K in the process.

Football field at 17th & Master

Each lot measures a fantastic 22′ wide by 100′ deep. A reminder, most buildable lots in Philadelphia measure about 16′ x 60′, so these lots are extra wide and deep, which opens up several possibilities. Mansions are certainly an option, and there were surely a few on this block back when the buildings that used to be here were first built. That doesn’t seem like a feasible product for this location in 2020, however. Instead, multi-family is unquestionably the way to go, given the close proximity to Temple and the fact that fact that the larger lot can easily support several units. Just a few steps away from here, a 5-unit building and a 4-unit building were constructed in the last few years.

IMG_7803 2
The lots that will be redeveloped
There's already been some construction on the block

The new owners of the lots at 1710-18 W. Master St. are looking to build triplexes, which you’d think would be a by-right proposal. Remarkably though, the properties on the southern side of the 1700 block of W. Master are zoned for single-family homes, not apartment buildings. Given the size of the lots and the location, this makes absolutely no sense. We have to think that the ZBA understands this situation, as variances were granted for the recently built projects on the block. But this nevertheless adds an element of risk for the developers that bought these properties, since they are basically worthless without a variance.

Furthermore, we’d argue that triplexes are an underuse for these properties- they should be quadplexes at a minimum and could probably accommodate even more units. Unfortunately, we suspect the zoning of these properties is a feature, not a bug, given the resistance to student housing in this part of town. We’ve always subscribed to the theory that greater density and increased apartment supply drives down rents, but in this case, for some reason, maybe basic supply/demand curves don’t apply.