The 4200 block of Chestnut Street always felt to us like a sleepier West Philly block, home to a mix of older three-story apartment buildings, small businesses, office space, and the massive and gorgeous Christ Memorial Reformed Episcopal Church on the western end of the street. But let’s get real – the edge of Penn’s campus is three blocks away, making the properties on this block some of the most desirable in the city. And in the last half decade, as student housing has exploded in all directions in this part of town, developers have certainly noticed the potential this block possesses.
The biggest change on the block is at the far end, where a previous owner demolished the old church and Alterra has stepped in to construct a new building with nearly 300 new units. That project looks like it’s nearing the finish line, just in time for the fall semester. Across the street, University Realty built a 47 unit building a few years back. Moving east, there are a couple other buildings that have appeared, with another 47 unit building, coincidentally, at 4210 Chestnut St., and a 28-unit building across the street at 4217 Chestnut St., at the site of an old catering hall. We previously told you about all these projects, and now they’re either finished or darn close, adding a combined 400 or so units to this block. And there are some other projects in the pipeline on the block which will add even more to the mix.
One such project will occur at 4205-13 Chestnut St., where developers have pulled permits to build a new 100-unit apartment building. Two vacant buildings sit on this recently consolidated property, and both will surely be demolished as part of the redevelopment.
The building at 4211-13 Chestnut St. was used most recently as a small grocery store, and before that it was a thrift store for a number of years. It’s a one-story building that doesn’t offer much architecturally, and while we are sorry that the grocery store is gone, the demolition of the building is no big loss. It’s a bit of a different story at 4205 Chestnut St., which was most recently used as a restaurant. The one-story space in the front of the building isn’t so inspired, but the three-story section of the building which sits back from the street is quite handsome. From what we can tell, the building was originally built as a small apartment building, and a laundromat built out the front section in the early 1960s, covering up the original entrance. This sort of thing has happened to many buildings in this part of West Philly over the years, but much of the original building at 4205 Chestnut St. is still intact and it’ll be a shame to see it go.
Alas, that’s the way things are moving on this block, as low rise buildings are getting replaced by mid-rise structures with more density, to accommodate the growing population in the area. Unfortunately, the zoning code also requires parking for these types of projects, and in the interest of getting by-right zoning approval, all of the new buildings on the block have included garage access and curb cuts. We imagine that the same will be true at 4205-13 Chestnut St., which will not only remove more parking from the street, but complicate traffic patterns on a busy throughway while discouraging pedestrian and bicycle travel on the block.
We’d think an overlay that allows for the elimination of required parking would make a ton of sense over here (and in other areas for that matter), but pigs will fly before any community group in Philadelphia supports such a policy. And it’s a shame, because this block may have been underused, but it was very friendly to pedestrians just a half a decade ago. Not so much these days, and the situation will only worsen as more projects move forward here.