Plans shaping up for apartment house at 2401 Washington Ave

Philadelphia’s Civic Design Review Committee reviewed plans for a 113-unit, mixed-use apartment complex at 24th Street and Washington Avenue on Tuesday ahead of a zoning board hearing at which the developers will seek a number of variances.

The project is proposed for an oddly shaped property at 2401 Washington, which is currently vacant but for a billboard. The proposal calls for a building of varying heights, five stories at its tallest point, with retail space along Washington Avenue. It would have 57 parking spaces for cars and 53 spaces for bikes. The units would be a mix of studios and 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom apartments.

The property is currently zoned I-2, a medium-impact industrial category. Residential development isn’t allowed in that district, so the developer will need a variance for the use as well as for the depth of the rear yard.

The project would also include a small park, open to the public, and a private dog run for residents.

The Committee’s comments on the project were fairly limited. There was a suggestion to rethink planting grass on an area of the property that would be regularly cast in shade, a recommendation to seek LEED certification for sustainable design, and an urge to make the storefront space as tall as structurally possible along Washington Avenue.

Christopher Stomberg of South of South Neighborhood Association, the local Registered Community Organization, said that his group had voted to support the project. SOSNA’s zoning committee voted unanimously, 6-0, to support the project, its general membership supported the project 38-7, and the near neighbors voted 7-5 in favor.

But other nearby residents said that SOSNA’s support didn’t represent them. Madeleine Shikomba, of the North of Washington Avenue Coalition, said the project is too big and has too many units. Another Coalition member and Democratic Committeeman, Jonathan Purnell, said the development would make it even harder to park in the neighborhood.

The project would have one parking space for every two units, which is more spaces than the code requires for the current zoning. Hercules Grigos, an attorney for the developer, Green Construction LLC, said that the project was designed for IRMX zoning—Industrial Residential Mixed-Use—which some neighbors say is the appropriate zoning classification for the Washington Avenue corridor west of Broad Street. If the corridor were to be remapped that way, it could maintain its industrial character while permitting a denser population in the neighborhood.

In the Central District plan, the Planning Commission recommend mostly ICMX—Industrial Commercial Mixed Use—along the north side of the corridor. The South District plan, currently underway, will also include recommendations for the other side of Washington Avenue. Neighbors have differing visions of how the corridor should be remapped. Some want to allow more residential density while others want to restrict the avenue to commercial uses.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who is ultimately responsible for deciding whether and how to remap the area, is still “doing the due diligence” to determine what zoning category is best for the area, according to Steve Cobb, his legislative director.

As for the 2401 Washington Avenue project, Johnson has yet to make a determination about whether he’ll support it at the zoning board. At the Committee meeting yesterday, Grigos agreed that the development team would meet with near neighborhors from the North of Washington Avenue Coalition before the ZBA hearing, on Feb. 18th. Councilman Johnson said he’d wait until all neighbors has weighed in before deciding whether or not to support the project.

“I’m excited by the level of investment coming to Washington Avenue, and this project represents the latest example of that investment interest,” Johnson said in a statement to PlanPhilly. “Washington Avenue is on the move, and we are working to plan, from a zoning perspective, for a future that will welcome new uses while allowing our existing businesses to prosper. I understand that the proposal for 2401 Washington was positively received at South of South Neighborhood Association and Washington Avenue Property Owners Association meetings. The developer is currently discussing the project with near neighbors. I await the result of those discussions.”

Theoretically, of course, the zoning board’s determination will be made on the merits of the developer’s case, regardless of who supports or opposes the project. The board previously ruled in favor of a residential project in an industrial district at 16th and Washington, which Councilman Johnson also supported. That ruling was overturned, however, by a Common Pleas Court judge last month.

The developers of that proposal have not said yet whether they’ll appeal the decision.

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