Have you ever walked down the 1000 block of Chestnut and lamented that some of the beautiful buildings are just languishing behind
plywood? Or attended First Friday in Old City and can’t believe that so many buildings remain shuttered when others have been rehabbed into apartments and galleries? One of our ideas in the Central District plan hopes to tackle that issue: The No Use to New Use Task Force.
The No Use to New Use Task Force concept developed as a part of the planning process for the Central District. During the planning process, the Planning Commission staff set up various stakeholder and public meetings to hear comments and ideas. One of the most common issues we heard is that there is little connection between Independence Mall and City Hall. Tourists leave the National Historic Park and find themselves on run down commercial corridors that don’t have the same vitality of other areas of Center City.
East Chestnut Street is one of main connector streets and it suffers from chronic vacancy, poor retail choices and few incentives for anyone to explore these streets, especially at night. Although there are a few bright spots (such as the 700 block that has improved greatly over the past few years), these blocks need help. The biggest piece of the puzzle is the vacancy, not just of some of the storefronts, but also most of the upper floors in the buildings are vacant. Other sections of the Central District suffer from vacancy on corridors that have seen redevelopment, such as 2nd & 3rd Streets in Old City and the eastern section of South Street. READ MORE
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.
Castor Avenue Existing Conditions
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.
Rendering of Castor Avenue with the uses and dimensions allowed by CMX-2.5 zoning illustrated.
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:
Geno’s Steak’s is located in the heart of the Cheesesteak Square, er, Passyunk Square neighborhood. Credit: Photo by G. Widman for GPTMC
Now that the new code is in effect, we’ll be spotlighting the zoning code every week in our “Get in the Zone” series. Have you made your reservations for the Center City District’s Restaurant Week yet? No? What are you waiting for? Obviously you’re waiting to book until you know the answers to today’s Q&A topic: Eating and Drinking Establishments
Q: I’m a producer, guest judge, gourmet chef, extreme eater, and taco samurai for the Food Network and the Gordon Ramsey Plot for Global Reality Programming Domination. I estimate that about 20% of all of our onsite locations are in Philadelphia and I’m hoping this new zoning code can give me delectable insights into locations beyond the Reading Terminal Market and the Cheesesteak Square neighborhood.
A: That’s great! We love all the positive press our food scene is generating for the City of Brotherly Love. The new code has three types of sub-uses under the larger banner of “eating and drink establishments”: prepared food shop; take-out restaurant; and sit-down restaurant.
Also, I believe that “Cheesesteak Square” prefers the name “Passyunk Square” – just for future reference.
(NOTE: Don’t see the youtube video? Reload the page, please!)
It’s got to be this unspeakably beautiful weather. Or maybe it’s a combination of the great weather and all of these great things happening around us in Philadelphia! Whatever it is, we are relentless with the positive energy and good news today.
Despite pressing tax reform challenges that warrant serious consideration and action in the now-to-near future, people and firms are choosing to be here, including big-deal venture capital firm First Round Capital. As of yesterday, they are officially ensconced in an appropriately significant space for startups: the site of the first Urban Outfitters store! As in, the one that started the international empire that now employs something like 1200 people in a drop-dead gorgeous campus at The Navy Yard! Go eat lunch there! Try the salad bar.
But we digress. The big news is that a venture capital firm, the kind that funds creative startups, sees Philly as a smart choice, and they’ve even made us this lovely video explaining why. This video highlights the growing numbers of entrepreneurial types choosing to inhabit our fair city, only underscoring how vitally important it is that we continue to make improvements that protect and enhance quality of life, mobility, and cost of living. Onward!