Eight Buildings Will be Demoed in Spruce Hill, But to What End?

As we were scanning the daily zoning permit report yesterday, we noticed six demolition permits on the east side of the 200 block of S. 44th Street. This was a surprise for sure, as this block contains a row of mostly intact buildings that surely date back to the late 19th century. We say mostly intact because the buildings have been obviously modified over the years, some losing porches, some losing original brick, some picking up stucco, etc. That being said, many of the buildings maintain many original architectural details, at least outside.

Homes as seen through the trees
Moving down the block
These will go too
Looking north up the block

Though these buildings look nice and include many original details, the buildings at 245-255 S. 44th St. are not on the local historic register and are therefore not protected from demolition. As much as it might frustrate local preservationists, there’s nothing that can be done at this point to forestall the demolition of these buildings. Also, we should mention that the same developer owns two other buildings on this block for which we don’t see demolition permits at this time, but we would have to think that they will be dropping any day. So figure that 243 and 257 S. 44th St. will also come down as part of this project.

You may be wondering what project we are talking about, and you wouldn’t be alone. We confess, we don’t know what this developer is planning for this location, but we have some speculation we can provide. First, we should note that these buildings are used as rental apartments, generally with four units in each, and have been used as such for decades. The properties, however, were remapped for single family use within the last few years, so the current apartment buildings are considered as pre-existing non-conformities. Demolishing the buildings will wipe away the zoning exemption, so the developer would only be able to build single-family homes here, unless a zoning variance comes into play.

Given the tenor around demolition, zoning variances, and development in general in this part of town, we would expect that any effort to procure a zoning variance would be met with considerable pushback from the community, even if it’s to resume the longtime uses at the site, but in new buildings. So we don’t think that’s the plan here at all. Instead, we believe that the developer is going to pursue a by-right development here, and intends to build a row of new construction single-family homes. From the north on Locust, there’s a pre-existing driveway that will allow rear access parking for new homes, and quite frankly, there are virtually no examples of new construction for-sale townhome projects with parking in this part of town. Given the proximity to Penn and the Penn Alexander school, we would imagine that any homes that would get built here would easily sell for seven figures.

The other possibility would be something far larger project that might absorb these properties into the CVS property located immediately to the east. That parcel is zoned for mixed-use, and if a developer were to utilize zoning bonuses, they could build a four-story building with ground-floor retail, lots of units, and no parking. We’ve heard no rumblings about the CVS closing or relocating, and frankly a four-story building here would feel like an underuse, with six or seven stories feeling much more appropriate. Of course, such a plan would again require a zoning variance, which we think would be a very tough road. For now, we’re betting on the townhome plan, but if something massive comes together on this block, you heard it here first.

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