Remaking Sharswood: Commission votes to upzone, strike streets for PHA’s new headquarters

On Tuesday the Philadelphia City Planning Commission unanimously recommended two zoning variances for the site of the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s new headquarters planned for Ridge Avenue in North Philadelphia.

The authority (PHA) has already started construction on the first phase of its ambitious 10-year plan for the Sharswood neighborhood, located just north of Girard College. All told, the Authority hopes that the remade Sharswood will include 1,200 units of new mixed-income housing and a thriving commercial corridor on Ridge Avenue. At the heart of it, the Authority’s new home.

The Commission’s gave a nod for two Council bills authorizing several street vacations and property rezoning.

Zoning changes will encourage taller, mixed-use buildings in prominent locations along the Ridge Avenue commercial corridor. Currently, about half of the PHA site is zoned RM-1 for low-density multi-family homes, and half CMX-2 for small-scale mixed-use buildings, like one with apartments above a storefront. The bill would upzone most of the site to CMX-3 for larger scale, higher-density, mixed-use developments like PHA’s proposed six-story, 135,000 square-foot headquarters.

The other bill approved by Planning Commission seeks to vacate three small side-streets between 20th and 21st streets, south of Oxford. There’s also a carveout to preserve a utility right-of-way on Redner Street, which PHA says will be allow truck deliveries to a potential supermarket on that site.

“This is the next important step in the Sharswood/Blumberg transformation efforts,” Nichole Tillman, PHA’s spokeswoman, said via email. “The change in zoning from various zoning designations to a singular focus designation will allow for mixed-used development. [The Authority] looks forward to other businesses joining us along the Corridor to bring the amenities that every community wants and deserves.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, however, site plans were just a rudimentary sketch.

City planner David Fecteau pointed out that the zoning recommendation would not hold PHA to the site for their planned headquarters. The Authority has freedom to rearrange plans for its development along the Ridge Avenue corridor as it sees fit.

The exact location of the Authority’s new home had been in flux until recently.

Matthew McClure, a land use attorney with Ballard Spahr, told the Planning Commission that his client PHA altered its plan last week at the request of the city. Originally, the headquarters was slated for the northwest corner of this site, but then moved down one block down to the southeast corner of Ridge Avenue and Jefferson Street, in order to better facilitate a supermarket. PHA has not yet announced its client for the supermarket, but Tillman says they are close to making that information public.

PHA wouldn’t give any specifics on a timeline for the headquarters, other than that they plan to break ground “within the year.” PHA’s lease on its current office ends in March 2018.

Due to the proposed building size, the development as planned will trigger a Civic Design Review, with a public meeting to review more details of the proposal.

The rezoning bills move now to City Council, and then to the Streets Department’s Board of Surveyors for final confirmation.

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