Later this summer, developers Temple Nest Apartments will got to the ZBA, seeking a variance to build a four-story building at 3526 Mount Vernon St., on a parcel that’s currently sitting vacant. The building, as proposed, would contain 18 apartments which we have to think would target a student population, given that this developer specializes in that market. This project has a couple unique aspects though, which could make things interesting at the ZBA.

Current view

Historically, this lot was owned by the Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is located steps away at 36th & Haverford. The church owns the school/day care in between the church and the lot as well, and sold the lot to the developers back in 2014 for $295K. Though the property looks like a surface parking lot, we don’t see any cars parked there either on Google Street View’s Time Machine or looking at several historic satellite images- so it seems the church wasn’t doing much of anything with the land. This being the case, it certainly made sense for the church to cash out on an unused asset.

It made sense for the developer as well. As we’ve documented over the years, Drexel student housing has consistently pushed northward into Mantua, though we haven’t seen a whole lot of construction north of Haverford Avenue. As more buildings have appeared on Haverford though, these developers clearly see an opportunity on Mount Vernon Street, rewarding their patience over the last few years.

That patience has seemingly come at a cost though, because it looks like the zoning for the property has changed since they bought the lot. Looking at public record, it appears the property was previously zoned for multi-family use, but it got remapped along the way to single-family use. Even if the lot was still zoned for multi-family and the developers took advantage of some bonuses, they would still likely need to go to the ZBA, but the threshold for a variance for a density refusal in a multi-family district is lower than for a single-family to multi-family refusal. We imagine this will come up at the ZBA hearing, as will concerns from the community about gentrification. As for how the ZBA will rule, we don’t know.

Huge vacancy to the west
Blight on the northwest corner

While we wait to see what shakes out on the southeast corner of 36th & Mount Vernon, we continue to wait for something, anything to happen across the street. You may recall, there was a plan several years ago to bulldoze four square blocks from 36th & Haverford to 38th & Wallace and build a suburban-style supermarket shopping center in the middle of Mantua. Those plans were scuttled by artist James Dupree, who refused to sell his workshop on the 3600 block of Haverford, preventing the clear site needed for the plan. A little over a year ago, the newest plan emerged for this site, calling for a mixed-use building at 37th & Haverford with a supermarket on the first floor and a collection of triplexes over two square blocks.

Revised project site plan

We get it, a project of this size takes a ton of time. And because of City involvement and a likely need for tax credits, we wouldn’t be surprised if groundbreaking is still a ways away. But given the rough road for this project over the last half dozen years, we’d love to see some sign of progress at the site and a clear indication that this thing is actually going to happen- because we’d hate to see things fall through once again for a supermarket in a neighborhood that needs one more than most.