The Broad & Girard intersection is one of the major crossroads in the city, and not just because two wide roads happen to meet at this location. Featuring both the Girard Ave. stop on the Broad Street Line as well as the returning-in-September Route 15 trolley line stop, you might envision a grand intersection with towering buildings. That’s not so much the case, with a shuttered fast-food restaurant on the northeast corner representing perhaps the worst of the four corners here. This locally famous McDonald’s closed several months back, and we were excited when we saw a demolition notice on-site while heading across town. Per the permit issued earlier this month, the structure could come down any day.
After excitedly imagining the possibilities for a mixed-use, transit-oriented development going up in its place, some further digging into the property history led us to a less exciting expectation. According to a zoning referral from August, it appears that this may be an instance where McDonald’s is retaining ownership of the property and replacing the existing building with a more modern structure, like we saw on a recent trek to Grays Ferry. While there are some discrepancies in the language used across permits, we would imagine we’ll see this corner keep its fast-food roots, much to our chagrin. This is an instance where we would be thrilled to be wrong, with the Golden Arches moving on from the property and selling to someone with an eye toward redevelopment.
Immediately catty-corner, a former retail spot is getting a worthy upgrade. Formerly a one-story CVS, the corner building is now demolished, with plans now calling for 201 units along with 44 parking spaces rising seven stories. Hightop Development brought in CosciaMoos to design a modern building with ground floor retail, forming a striking new space at this prominent spot. Immediately to the south, another mixed-use building from Canno Design will add yet another 49 units to this increasingly buzzing intersection.
Making our way just a block to the east along Girard, we come to yet another retail-to-residential upgrade. The property at 1201 W. Girard Ave. was a low-rise Rite Aid and a massive parking lot for years. It was almost exactly two years ago when we last checked out the site, when plans for 168 units designed by Landmark Architecture went to Civic Design Review. Since then, the site has been cleared and construction is well underway for this four-story building. This exclusively residential building managed by OCF Realty will include 31 car parking spaces and will bring even more residents to this transit-friendly area. As you can see, the design has been switched up a bit, now featuring a stately brick facade along the entirety of Girard Ave., with recessed black windows and masonry helping break-up the length and adding to the traditional material palette.
Despite over 400 units coming online across these projects over the next few years, we could have an even more vibrant corridor if the zoning for the area made more sense. Oddly, the McDonald’s lot is zoned CMX-2.5, while all three other corners at this same intersection are zoned CMX-4, which allows for greater height and density. A CMX-2.5 lot could accommodate a 5-story building as a matter of right, but this lot is a little over an acre in size and represents an opportunity for greater height, more density, and sizable retail on a prominent corner. CMX-4 zoning would allow for that, but we’d sooner expect downzoning here, if we’re prognosticating.
The zoning at 1201 W. Girard Ave. has similarly resulted in a smaller project than we might have preferred. Despite being a block away from Broad Street along a major commercial corridor, this property was zoned RM-1 when it went through permitting, forbidding commercial space and topping out at 45′ thanks to an affordable housing bonus. Would we have seen more height, more density, and more retail space to serve the community had this been zoned more appropriately as CMX-2.5/3? You bet!
But we shouldn’t complain, because this project got in while the going was “good.” Last summer, the City created the inane Girard Avenue Overlay, which limits the height of buildings on Girard east of Broad to 38′. That would have limited this project to three stories and made it impossible to redevelop, from a financial perspective. Alas, this overlay is just another example in the long list of instances in which our local government has actively or passively stepped in front of development and growth in our city. And that list sadly keeps getting longer.
Disclosure: An affiliate of OCF Realty is the developer for the 1201 Girard Ave. project. OCF Realty is the parent company of Naked Philly.