South Philadelphia developer resists calls for more parking, promises grocery store

Alterra Property Group wants more housing, less parking in South Philadelphia Passyunk Square development, plans grocery store to rival Acme.

An artist's illustration shows an apartment development planned for 1100 Wharton St. (Courtesy Alterra Property Group)

An artist's illustration shows an apartment development planned for 1100 Wharton St. (Courtesy Alterra Property Group)

A developer who wants to build 170 apartments in a South Philadelphia rowhouse neighborhood pushed back last night against calls for fewer units and more parking, saying the people he expects to move into the building just won’t have many cars.

“The more parking you build, the more you’re going to attract people who need parking. You build a little bit more than you think you need, and then you build a lot more bike parking than you think you need, and you have a natural gravitation of people’s lifestyles to the buildings where you have parking or don’t have parking, have bike parking or don’t have bike parking,” said Leo Addimando of Alterra Property Group.

Addimando spoke to an overflow crowd of more than 100 residents at Capitolo Playground recreation center who came to hear his plans to redevelop a city-owned municipal complex bounded by Wharton, Reed, 11th, and 12th streets.

Many of those in attendance, particularly older, long-time residents of the Passyunk Square neighborhood, said they worried that the new apartment-dwellers and their cars would aggravate parking struggles and traffic congestion in the neighborhood and further burden nearby Andrew Jackson Elementary, which is over capacity.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“One hundred and seventy units or anything in that neighborhood seems very, very scary to me,” said John DiGiulio, former zoning chair of the Passyunk Square Civic Association. “No matter what goes on in this neighborhood, parking is always the issue.”

Addimando said he believes the parking designed into the Wharton Street project is more than adequate. His company owns more than 2,000 housing units in central Philadelphia and has found that fewer than 20% of its residents have cars, he said.

A contingent of generally younger residents urged Addimando to go even further, arguing for a walkable, dense development, more affordable housing, and less parking. The urbanist 5th Square PAC had put out a call for supporters to attend the meeting “to counterbalance the parking mania,” and in particular to oppose Councilman Mark Squilla’s plan to create new public parking spaces on another city property across Reed Street.

Dena Driscoll, a nearby resident and bicycling advocate who co-chairs 5th Square, said the city should be doing more planning related to parking rather than leaving it to residents and developers to argue over in meeting after meeting.

“I’m excited to see different kinds of housing in my neighborhood. I actually don’t think it’s your job to fix the parking situation here,” she told Addimando. “Piecemealing every project to force them to take away units and add more parking, and adding expensive underground parking instead of making more affordable housing, is a problem.”

Alterra’s rendering shows a birds-eye view of the mixed-use development planned for land now occupied by city buildings. (Courtesy Alterra Property Group)

Affordable apartments and a new grocery store for Passyunk Square

Alterra’s plan calls for the demolition of the city’s fire station on 12th Street across from Columbus Square Park to make way for the new housing. On the ground floor below the apartments, Alterra would build space for a 20,000-square-foot grocery store. It would compete with a large Acme store — which has a large, underused parking lot — just a block away.

“We’re hoping to bring an additional grocer into the neighborhood, something to complement the Acme. It would be a little bit easier to get in and out of, catered more toward the walking traffic than the auto traffic. I would say nicer than the Acme, but that’s not to be a slight against Acme,” Addimando said.

He did not identify the prospective grocer. Giant Food Stores has opened three smaller-format Giant Heirloom Markets around town in the past year, most recently a 13,000-square-foot store in Northern Liberties with local vendors and an underground taproom. It’s planning a fourth store at Second and South streets. Target has also opened several small stores that sell grocery and non-grocery items, including one in Alterra’s new Lincoln Square development at Broad and Washington.

The store and apartments on 12th Street would go up in the second phase of the municipal complex project, Addimando said. In the first phase, Alterra would start by building a new firehouse for the city in a wedge of the complex on 11th Street, next to a police station. Those properties will remain city-owned. The developer also plans to renovate a former fleet maintenance facility in the municipal complex, creating offices and a community meeting space.

DiGiulio said the neighbors have to resign themselves to seeing apartments built, but said he wants Addimando to reduce the number of units and add more parking. When Alterra built out the neighboring Wharton Lofts at 12th and Wharton several years ago, the building ended up with fewer apartments and more parking spaces than originally proposed, DiGiulio said. That building has 45 apartments.

Of the new units Alterra plans to build, 128 would be market rate and 42 units affordable. The affordable units would be 25 studios renting for about $918 a month, depending on the resident’s income level, as well as 12 one-bedrooms at $984 and five two-bedrooms at $1,180. They would be reserved for tenants earning 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), or about $50,000 for a family of four.

The apartment building would have 59 parking spaces for lease in an underground garage, with unused spaces available for lease by non-residents. The reconfigured municipal complex would also have 37 public parking spots for area residents with city permits. At the same time, on a city-owned property across Reed Street, the city will independently create a new lot with more than 60 permit spots, at Squilla’s request.

PFD Engine 10 in South Philadelphia will be demolished under a plan to build housing on the city land. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Alterra’s other projects include the nine-story Lincoln Square with 322 rental units, the Target, a Sprouts grocery, and other stores at Broad and Washington. That mixed-use project is one of more than a dozen developed in Center City and surrounding neighborhoods by the company in recent years.

Two miles southwest of the Wharton municipal complex, at Quartermaster Plaza, Alterra is preparing to break ground on another project that will also bring apartments to a rowhouse-dominated section of the city. In partnership with Cedar Realty Trust, Alterra will reinvent an aging suburban-style strip mall as a denser development with 260 apartments. It promised to build one parking space per apartment as part of a community benefits agreement signed with Girard Estate Area Residents, a neighborhood group.

Addimando said Alterra will make a contribution toward a community project organized by the Passyunk Square Civic Association, as part of the municipal complex development.

The development was criticized last night by Jackson parents for potentially adding more students to the school catchment while failing to include a new school building or overflow classroom space in the proposed commercial building, as they have requested. Marina D’Angelo, president of Jackson’s Home & School Association, criticized Squilla and the city for not demanding school district involvement in the project.

“Why is it that there’s a disconnect, when a huge tract of city-owned property, in the dead center of the first-stage of overpopulation in our public schools, does not include a dedicated solution? Why are you not making it a point?” she said.

Squilla said the school district is aware of the project and could still arrange with Alterra to lease space in the 12,487-square-foot fleet maintenance facility after it is rehabbed. He also said the apartment building is not expected to attract many families with children.

Several residents asked about the prospect for affordable senior housing in the new building, a frequent request during a community-input process over the last year.

Addimando said seniors are welcome to live in the market-rate or affordable units, and said $2 million of the proceeds from Alterra’s purchase of the property will be designated for senior housing. Once that money is available, the city will look for organizations to develop a housing facility two blocks away at the site of the South Philly Older Adult Center on Passyunk Avenue, Squilla said.

The purchase price for the property was not disclosed. A city assessment pegged its market value as $3.4 million for tax purposes, but that includes the police station and the proposed site of the new firehouse, which Alterra will not be purchasing.

Alterra will continue refining its proposal with an eye toward signing an agreement with the city early next year. The first phase of the project, including the construction of a new firehouse and renovation of the fleet building, will begin after City Council approves the sale agreement and rezones the property for residential-commercial use, Squilla said. That could happen by late spring.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal