Development proposal revived, revised for Francisville’s largest vacant property

Redevelopment for Francisville’s largest vacant property, a 1.5-acre site across from the Francisville Rec Center where a paint factory once stood, could move ahead after a years-long wait.

Last week the Philadelphia City Planning Commission voted to recommend a bill to change the zoning for this triangle of land to CMX-3, a very flexible designation that allows for the diverse mixture of housing types planned by the Hankin Group. The Exton-based developer subscribes to New Urbanist principles, like walkability and compact mixed-use neighborhoods, and mainly builds in the far-flung western suburbs of Philadelphia.

The Planning Commission’s recommendation of the zoning bill, introduced on behalf of Council President Darrell Clarke, is no guarantee that it will move forward. But if the project is completed it will represent the culmination of an almost ten-year effort by the Hankin Group to build on the wedge-shaped property at Wylie, Cameron and 19th streets. 

In a 2009 story on PlanPhilly about the site, the Hankin Group’s interest in the property is already dated to “several years.” In spring of that year the Office of Housing and Community Development issued a Request for Proposals to redevelop the site. At the time Hankin planned a four-story condo building with 60 units that would front on Wylie, while 26 three-story rowhouses were to go up behind it.

In 2010, the city sold the lot to Hankin with a deed that requires all units built there to be earmarked for homeownership. The deed also requires at least seven of the units be affordable to households making no more than 150 percent of the area median income.

The parcel was zoned RMX-3 on Wylie to accommodate the dense multi-family building with a commercial use, while the rest of the parcel was zoned RM-1 for the rowhouses.

But housing prices plummeted in the years after the 2008 economic downturn and Hankin backed off the project. Contacted for comment on this story the company’s general counsel, Mike Malloy, declined to speak extensively about the Francisville project.  

“After years of delay caused primarily by the Great Recession, we’re pleased to be working with the City on the rezoning for the new plan,” Malloy said in an emailed statement.

Hankin’s new proposal, requiring the rezoning from Clarke’s office, would offer 32 two- or three-bedroom condos and 34 one-bedroom units. Pedestrian passageways lead from the street to the interior courtyard and little balconies look out on the surrounding neighborhood.

“The previous version would have included an apartment building and units in the back,” said central district planner Ian Litwin, during his presentation of the zoning bill to the Planning Commission last week. “We think this current proposal is much better as it mixes it [the smaller units] throughout the site.”

Similar to the original 2009 plan, Hankin includes an interior courtyard with parking and 3,000 square feet of commercial space at the intersection of 19th and Wylie.

Hankin’s zoning lawyer, Matthew McClure, assured the commission that the developer has been meeting with neighbors since 2009 and received nothing but “positive results from that.”

The Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation hasn’t yet reviewed the new plans, but director Penelope Giles says Hankin offered a lot of outreach around the initial proposal, even offering her group tours of the company’s projects in the Exton area.

“They provided a lot of insight and we learned a lot from their walkable communities model,” says Giles. “We are very anxious for them to present [their new plans], break ground, and move this project forward because it’s been way too long in the queue,” says Giles.

Giles also notes that Francisville NDC has a community benefits agreement with Hankin dating back to the original proposal, with a focus on investment in the Francisville just to the south.  The group is interested in renegotiating their arrangement with the developer to work out “more of a spread in terms of benefits.”

McClure noted that the Hankin would need to go to the community and the council president again to make some tweaks to the deed restriction. Malloy said he couldn’t comment to PlanPhilly about the changes they’d be requesting in the deed, only saying that they would preserve the requirement that 100 percent of the units be designated for homeownership.

McClure also described Hankin as being “in constant communication” with Clarke’s office too. The council president’s office had no comment about the project or the rezoning bill.

The rezoning bill was up for a March 14 City Council Rules Committee hearing, which was cancelled. A new date has been set for April 4.

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