What’s With Those Gap-Toothed Developments in Francisville?

And other tales concerning one property owner who's reluctant to sell some vacant land.

Gap-toothed townhomes on North 16th Street in Francisville

Francisville residents have gotten used to hearing the sound of hammers and saws around them — the neighborhood has become something of a builder’s paradise, thanks in no small part to the neighborhood’s community development corporation. Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation head Penelope Giles, in contrast to some of her peers in other low-income neighborhoods and with the support of many of her neighbors, has chosen to get out in front of gentrification rather than fight it. Letting the community guide the process, she argues, will benefit everyone.

It seems that some property owners in the neighborhood, however, don’t share her enthusiasm.

As a result, gap-toothed new construction projects such as that one on 16th Street at Ogden can be found at a number of places in the neighborhood, and one also can run across new or rehabilitated housing units bracketing boarded-up row houses.

We’ve seen that latter phenomenon in some other neighborhoods where slumlords have sat on decaying properties until they get their price for them or they collapse. But the former is rather unusual, as is the holdout property owner: the City of Philadelphia.

A new online site called Philly Landworks, run by the Redevelopment Authority, allows would-be buyers to use the map-based view on the site to locate vacant and abandoned properties and submit “expressions of interest” in buying them. We got to wondering what was up at City Hall when a broker of our acquaintance complained to us that he had submitted several Expressions of Interest over the last three months and has yet to hear anything back.

We mentoned this and those gap-toothed projects to Redevelopment Authority spokesperson Paul Chrystie. Paul responded that delays in responding to expressions of interest have to do with property-specific issues for each property and that without detail on the individual properties, he could not be more specific about what those issues might be.

The holes in those Francisville projects, however, have a simpler explanation. When we asked him about another hole, in a project around the corner from the one shown here, on Ogden Street, he replied, “Councilman [Darrell] Clarke has identified a number of properties in the Fifth District that he would prefer not be sold for one of the following reasons: 1) the property is in an area that does not yet have an adopted district plan, and he does not want to see uses that may contradict a future planning goal; 2) he is concerned about income diversity in appreciating neighborhoods; and 3) he is concerned about an influx of college students in residential neighborhoods. 1539 Ogden St. likely meets criteria 2 and 3, and so as of now it is not for sale.”

We suspect the same thing for the vacant lots in between these three-unit condominiums. The condos, however, are for sale — for about $175,000 for a one-bedroom unit. That’s more than what a typical Francisville house now standing might fetch, but it’s hardly a stratospheric amount.

Has anyone told Penelope Giles?