The area surrounding 17th and Carpenter streets—the southern end of the Graduate Hospital neighborhood, across Washington Avenue from Point Breeze—is amid such a drastic transformation that, in its current state, it’s a bit incoherent. Old row homes sit next to brand-new condos—some occupied, some not—across the street from empty houses and vacant lots.
Now, the biggest plot of vacant land in the neighborhood, which is across from two other vacant plots and a few standalone homes, will turn into a mixed-use development, with residential units and commercial space. Last week, City Council approved a Redevelopment Authority contract with Carpenter Square LP to build on the lot, from 1001-1035 South 17th Street.
The project was formulated by a group of neighborhood residents, led by Mark Scott, who lives in the 1500 block of Christian Street. The architects who designed the proposal, Brian Johnston and Christopher Stromberg of the recently formed Johnston Stromberg Architecture, also live within blocks of the Carpenter Square site, as does the project’s realtor, Michelle Ashley.
Scott said that the development will include 17 residential units: 11 townhomes, three one-bedroom condos, and three two-bedroom condos. While the asking prices for the units aren’t set in stone, Scott said the one-bedroom condos will probably go for about $200,000, the two-bedroom condos for upper $200,000s and the townhomes for around half a million. The development will also include a corner retail unit and, Scott hopes, some type of restaurant.
For a sense of how drastic the change in the neighborhood is, consider that the combined market value for all 18 addresses, as listed on the website of the Office of Property Assessment, is $183,400—more than $15,000 less than the projected asking price for a one-bedroom condo in the finished development. Of course, those market values are based on the properties being vacant, but the fact that a developer can get a contract to create such a high-end project just proves how dramatically the area is transforming.
Scott’s group has contracted with the RDA to develop the parcel, but the RDA does not currently own all of the addresses on the lot. A few of the properties are owned by the City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Nevertheless, Scott said, the RDA has procedures for working with the other agencies to dispose the properties. He declined to say how much his group is paying the RDA for the parcel.
“It was a market rate bid, and we had to beat other [proposals],” Scott said. “They [the RDA] want to make sure they get a fair price, but they also want to get a good project,” he added.
Scott said that the RDA indicated to him that his group’s proposal didn’t “necessarily” offer the most money, but that their design proposal was the best for the neighborhood.
The proposal includes rear-alley, two-car parking spaces for each of the eleven townhomes. The development is designed to be LEED Certified, Scott said, and he hopes to get the project certified LEED-ND (Neighborhood Development). Each of the homes will have a green roof, and the project includes substantial storm water management characteristics, according to Scott. He said the Water Department is currently conducting a preliminary review of those features.
Andrew Dalzell, programs coordinator for the South of South Neighborhood Association (SOSNA), said that an initial meeting between the developers and the neighborhood in November was remarkably positive. That session was for information only, however, and Dalzell made it clear that SOSNA is waiting to see exactly what variances the project will need before taking a vote and deciding whether to write a letter of non-opposition to the Zoning Board.
His personal perception of the project, however, is that it will be a boon for the neighborhood.
“It just looks like a transformational project and a forward-thinking project,” Dalzell said, “and I think that’s what the RDA saw as well.”
Mark Scott said he expects to receive a number of zoning refusals from L&I. The plot is currently zoned C-1 and R-10, and Scott said the proposal calls for a “slightly higher use” for commercial purposes, probably in line with a C-2 district, particularly if there is going to be a restaurant. The development will also be taller than the maximum building height and have four stories, rather than the allowed-by-right three stories. He also said that the project will need a parking variance, since it doesn’t include parking spots for the six condominiums.
Scott said he hopes to get the zoning refusals in time to present the project formally at a SOSNA meeting on March 21st. The group would then appear before the ZBA in late March or early April, Scott said.
Directly across 17th Street from the Carpenter Square site sits a wide, grassy, vacant lot surrounded by on either side by single homes, one on the corner of 17th and Carpenter and one about halfway down the block. The house in the middle of the block appears to be the last holdout from what was presumably at one point a full row of homes. It is three stories, and includes a concrete, fenced-in side yard.
“I’ve been in this particular house twelve years,” said the house’s owner, Armand Miles. “I’ve been in the neighborhood all my life.”
Miles said he’d gone to a meeting to hear about plans for Carpenter Square three months ago, presumably the SOSNA meeting.
“From what I understand, the moving-in prices start at $500,000,” he said. “So there’s no way in the world anybody born in this neighborhood or living here now can afford those prices.”
Miles said that he personally wasn’t worried about being priced out of his home, and that if a buyer were to come along and offer him a fair price, he would be willing to sell it. But he said it’s impossible not to notice the gentrification trend: people with “big money” move in, he said, and force out those who can’t afford to continue living there.
“It’s all over South Philly, it’s all over everywhere,” he said. “It’s all over Philadelphia. Period.”
For his part, Mark Scott said the project is about improving the neighborhood for the people who currently live there—including himself and the others involved in the Carpenter Square project. While the project is being financed by the Goldenberg Group, a Blue Bell, Pa.-based development company, Scott said Carpenter Square is the first project in which he’s put his own risk and reputation on the line. He believes the fact that he and his colleagues live in the neighborhood helped them create the winning proposal and contributed to the initial positive response from area residents.
“We’re designing what we want to live around the corner from,” Scott said.
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