Development, generally of the student housing variety, continues to push northward in West Philly. Over the years, we’ve seen construction creep further into Mantua and West Powelton, and every time we think it’s reached a stopping point, a new project comes along and moves things a bit farther north. So today we bring you a story about 4077 Lancaster Ave., a property that’s technically in the Belmont neighborhood, an area where we’ve seen relatively few projects to date. But we suspect we’ll have be covering more projects in this area in the years to come.
The property in question has some nice size to it, covering over 11K sqft. For many years, a market called Murry’s called this property home, in a one-story building that only dated to the late part of the 20th century. Murry’s shut its doors for good a half dozen years back or so, and a Family Dollar opened a couple doors down within a few years of its closing.
The former Murry’s sat vacant for several years, even as developers bought the building for $1.2M in 2017. Last year, those developers pulled a permit to build a two-story addition on the building and turn it into a mixed-use project with 23 units and vacant retail space. We have to think that one of the things that attracted the developers to the property was the fact that the building covered 100% of the lot, while typically buildings in the CMX-2 zoning district are required to have some open area. By taking the approach of building an addition, they were able to maintain the pre-existing non-conformity and weren’t required to have any open space. This makes sense anyway, since the property runs street to street.
Within the last several months, construction started here and you can see that the project is really just an addition in name only. The existing building has more or less been leveled, with only a few structural elements remaining. Still it’s apparently enough to avoid the open area requirements or the nearly impossible task of getting a zoning variance here. We should mention, the developers tried to get a variance for a 46-unit building in early 2020, but they withdrew their application. We have to think this happened because they realized their odds of getting said variance were not so hot.
The addition of new density on Lancaster Avenue is no surprise, though we would have preferred the denser approach the developers were originally hoping to pursue. We have to think that more projects like this will be coming around in the near future, with some nice-sized properties on this corridor which are not used to their fullest capability. To wit, several properties on Lancaster Avenue have boarded up the windows on the upper floors, shortchanging the corridor on much needed density. While it’s possible that some of those buildings will fix up their upper floors to try to unlock additional rental revenue, we’re more inclined to expect a run of demolitions and new construction projects instead. We’d honestly prefer the former approach to maintain some architectural diversity, but we’d bet on the market preferring the demolition route.