It wasn’t so many years ago that Penn students seeking to live close to campus had a very limited number of options that ranged from dorms to off-campus apartments that hadn’t been renovated in a generation. Times have changed, and it’s been quite dramatic. Developers have built countless duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and the like to the north and west of campus, radically changing numerous blocks in Spruce Hill, Walnut Hill, and Cedar Park. Closer to campus, we’ve seen a variety of mid-rise apartment buildings appear, including two Hubs at 40th & Chestnut, Luna on Pine at 40th & Pine, and the Radian on the 3900 block of Walnut. Since demand doesn’t seem to be going down any time soon, it should come as no surprise that more apartment buildings are upcoming.

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In the past

Soon, we’ll be seeing a new building rise on the northeast corner of 43rd & Chestnut, a location that was home to the gorgeous Christ Memorial Reformed Episcopal Church for 131 years. Developer Guy Laren bought the property over a decade ago, at which point the building was already suffering from a collapsed steeple due to a storm and years of deferred maintenance. Laren held onto the property for years, renting out usable space in the church to a few different non-profits. Last year, Laren sold the property to developer Christopher Rahn for $10.5M, and Rahn’s company pulled demolition permits and began tearing down the church. Several months ago, Alterra Property Group bought the property for a whopping $17M, even though the demolition was still ongoing. Since then, the rest of the buildings on the site have been torn down, and the 38K sqft property is now sitting fully vacant.

Current view

Wasting little time, Alterra is already moving forward with a by-right plan to redevelop this property. Next month, they will present this plan at Civic Design Review, where they will receive non-binding recommendations on the design of the project. Thanks to their application packet, we have some insight into what we can expect- a 7 story building with 8,000 sqft of retail, 278 little apartments, and 54 parking spots. JKRP Architects did the design work on the project, and we can share these renderings, cribbed from the CDR application.

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Project rendering
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Another angle
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Aerial view

The average unit size in this building will be 582 sqft, which is about right for junior one bedroom apartments. We’re generally big advocates for building more density with smaller unit sizes, as we prefer higher density whenever possible and smaller units rent for lower prices than larger units. We confess, we’re a little surprised to see this approach in a building that we expect to target students, since we’d think students would prefer larger units and roommates. But maybe this thinking is a little outdated? Given that Alterra is building another project down the street that takes a similar approach with regard to unit sizes, we’d wager that they know what they’re doing.

Sister project down the street

Like the project at 4125 Chestnut St., the project at 43rd & Chestnut will be built using modular construction methods. We don’t have a perfect understanding of the numbers, but we’d have to think that this approach is a huge money saver in terms of construction costs for these types of projects. Given the prices paid for both parcels, we’d certainly hope so.

Incidentally, construction methods aren’t the only thing that these projects have in common. The eastern project, which is now rapidly approaching completion, is called “LVL 4125.” The western project, which we expect will be done by next summer, is being dubbed “The Next LVL.” With rumors swirling about additional Alterra projects in this neck of the woods, we wonder about possible names for future projects. Two identical buildings called “On the LVL?” A building with upgraded amenities called “Another LVL?” A nautical themed building called “Sea LVL?” A tall building called “LVL Up?” Amazing ideas, all of them, and on the house!