Some new construction caught our eye on the 800 block of N. 40th Street and it serves as both an example of the continuing trek of development northward into Mantua and the inability of the City of Philadelphia to properly manage its inventory of vacant land. Back in 2014, City agencies owned 7 out of the 8 vacant lots on the east side of N. 40th Street just north of Brown Street and surely could have convinced the private owners of 811 N. 40th St. to sell their parcel so that the City could create a roughly 10K sqft assemblage with multi-family zoning. Such a parcel could have been sold to market rate developers for a nice price or it could have been sold at a discount to affordable housing developers, with an eye toward well located rentals or for-sale workforce housing.

Screen Shot 2021-02-25 At 11.00.40 AM
800 block of N. 40th, in the past

That didn’t happen. Instead, the City peeled off two of the lots, 803 N. 40th St. and 807 N. 40th St., and sold them to the owner of 801 N. 40th St. in 2014. A couple years later, that person flipped the two vacant lots, along with the multi-family building at the corner, to developers from Haverford Square Properties, making over 300% on each sale. The same developers also bought the aforementioned other privately owned lot on the block at 811 N. 40th St. as well as the existing multi-family building at the corner. Last year, they went to zoning to get a variance to build 6-unit buildings on their vacant lots and got approved, and those three buildings are now under construction.

Current view
Seen from the south

For the last decade or so, we’ve seen development continue to push north from the 40th & Baring intersection, mostly with projects targeting student renters. As supply of vacant land has decreased in the area, we’ve started to see projects cross Lancaster Avenue in the last couple years, and this surely portends additional projects in the future. Even some of the infill lots between these new buildings could turn over, as a couple have been in RFPs in the last few years. Those lots will likely be redeveloped with affordability in mind, for what it’s worth.

To be clear- we have no objection to the projects pictured above in which developers entered into private transactions with someone selling property and have gone through the proper permitting channels to build something on lots that have been vacant for many years. Still, we have trouble looking at this construction without thinking about the missed opportunity, if only the City had a plan for its vacant land. And sadly, things haven’t been fixed by the establishment of the Land Bank in 2015. Buying land from the City is still a black box affair and district council members still control the process through councilmanic prerogative. Until that unwritten law changes, figure the disjointed approach that produced the current situation on the 800 block of N. 40th St. will only continue.