Today’s district spotlight focuses on the Lower Northeast District Plan and specifically the plan’s ideas for Castor Avenue. On Tuesday, October 16th, the Lower Northeast District Plan will be presented for adoption at the monthly meeting of the Planning Commission.
We’d like to get your thoughts on what is turning out to be the most controversial (and the only controversial) recommendation in the plan. That controversial recommendation is to change the zoning classification along a 4-block stretch of Castor Avenue in the Oxford Circle neighborhood from a mix of CA-1, CMX-1, and CMX-2 to CMX-2.5 (recommendation # 5). These blocks, from Robbins Street to Unruh Avenue, contain a mix of retail and office uses in one- and two-story buildings. Residential uses above retail stores are few and far between along this stretch of Castor Avenue.
What’s CMX-2.5? Well we’ve covered that in a previous post, but let’s recap. CMX 2.5 is intended to accommodate active, pedestrian-friendly retail and service uses in commercial nodes and along commercial corridors. CMX 2.5 has a zero front-yard setback, a 25-foot building-height minimum, and a building maximum of 55 feet. It also permits a more limited range of uses than CMX-2 by not permitting such things as take-out, utilities and services, vehicle repair and services, gas stations, funeral homes, and storage.
CA-1 and CMX-1, which dominate Castor Avenue zoning now, are low density commercial zoning categories. CA-1 is auto-oriented and does not permit a residential aspect; while CMX-1 can be residential only and does not permit sit-down restaurants, some of the most successful businesses on Castor.
So why do we think CMX 2.5 is the right fit for these four blocks of Castor Avenue? Here are our reasons why we feel this change is appropriate:
Site Capacity Reasons
• Castor Avenue is 6 lanes wide – 4 driving lanes and two parking lanes. The distance between building faces is close to 100 feet;
• Castor Avenue carries the newly restored route 59 trackless trolley route;
A wider street can more comfortably handle taller buildings without creating a “canyon” effect. For example, in Center City, it is no accident that the tallest office towers are aligned along West Market Street and JFK Boulevard. The planners planned it that way! Streets with the right ratio of street width to building height create a sense of enclosure that makes pedestrians feel more comfortable and slows traffic.
Also Castor Avenue has a high-frequency trackless trolley route. The Route 59 connects directly to the Market-Frankford El at Margaret-Orthodox providing service to Center City and University City. Trackless trolleys combine the best elements of trolleys and buses, and due to the lack of an engine and fuel storage space, the vehicles can accommodate about a dozen more passengers than a diesel bus. SEPTA invested a considerable amount of money to bring these high-capacity vehicles back into operation and the Philadelphia2035 Citywide Vision promotes increased density around transit lines.
Housing & Demographic Reasons
• The Lower Northeast is the third fastest growing district in the City, gaining almost 11,000 residents in the last 20 years;
• The Oxford Circle neighborhood grew by 13% in the last 10 years; and
• 27.2 % of households in the Lower Northeast do not own a vehicle. This number is expected to rise with changes in the demographic make-up of the neighborhood.
As evidenced by the recent population growth, the Lower Northeast has many popular and desirable neighborhoods, but outside of Frankford, there is little vacancy to handle this demand. The population increase was handled by the existing housing stock, as the Lower Northeast saw little new construction. The small increase in housing units was mostly due to conversions of rowhomes into multi-family units. These conversions are not desirable to the neighborhoods, so we turned to the Lower Northeast’s commercial corridors, which are low-rise, auto-oriented, and have fair amounts of retail vacancy to accommodate growing housing demand. CMX-2.5 encourages multi-story, mixed-use development – commercial on the ground floor and residences above. Thus providing an elegant solution to both the housing demand and providing expanded shopping options to the expand population.
In fact, there is so much potential on Castor Avenue for development and redevelopment that we dedicated an entire Focus Area to it (one of three). Focus Areas are dynamic, long-term visions intended to have a transformational effect.
What do you think of our vision for Castor Avenue and the proposal to change the zoning to CMX-2.5?