24 Unit Building Rising in Fishtown. Is it a Hotel?

Frankford Flats under construction

1502-08 Frankford Avenue is a 7,132 square foot CMX-2 zoned parcel that sits in the heart of Fishtown’s commercial corridor. New mixed-use developments surround this property from the north, south, east, and west. 1502-08 Frankford Ave. is right across the street from Heffe, a tiny taco shop that took up residence in an old gas station. Try the Fat Man burrito or Polo Yo tacos. They definitely don’t suck.

The buildings that were demolished to make way for development at 1502-08 Frankford Ave.

In mid 2017, the owner of 1502-08 Frankford Ave. met with the Fishtown Neighborhood Association (FNA) and the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) seeking a variance for the construction of a 28 residential unit building with a commercial space on the first floor. The building would replace two old garages and a blighted multi-family structure. From our memory, the developer needed a variance for height and the number of units. The FNA vote did not support the project, but the ZBA provisionally approved the project with some required changes. As we were not at the ZBA meeting, we did not know what those required changes were until construction permits were pulled in October of 2018. The new construction permits called for a 24-unit building with 5 parking spots and 10 bicycle spaces.

Rendering of Frankford Flats – 1502-08 Frankford Ave.
Frankford Flats under construction

Hightop Real Estate and Development broke ground on their Frankford Avenue project, naming it Frankford Flats, at the end of 2018. A deep foundation was poured in early 2019 and construction has been swift ever since. A cinderblock elevator shaft rose out of the ground, followed by a structural steel first floor. The wood framed upper floors have flown up over the last several weeks with one more level to go before the structure is topped-out.

We were extremely excited to see another mixed-use building rise on Frankford Avenue. The renderings showed a high-quality commercial space with tall ceilings and large windows facing the street. Then, we saw another zoning variance requested for the property a few weeks ago. The variance is seeking a “PERMIT FOR VISITOR ACCOMMODATION FROM PARTIAL 2ND THRU 5TH FLOOR WITH EXISTING MULTIFAMILY DWELLING (24 UNITS) REMAINDER OF 2ND THRU 5TH FLOORS WITH VACANT 1ST FLOOR IN AN EXISTING STRUCTURE.”

The words “visitor accommodations” may not be familiar to those who do not frequently dig into zoning permits. However, from going through these documents often, we know that this permit is needed when a building owner wants to rent their space out as a hotel, BnB, or other short-term residential rental situation. The city’s zoning code defines “visitor accommodations” as “uses that provide temporary lodging for fewer than 30 days where rents are charged by the day or by the week or portion thereof and may also provide food or entertainment primarily to visitors and tourists.” So, we can fairly confidently say that the owner of this project is seeking to pursue a hotel or some other iteration of short-term residential rentals. They may even be planning to rent apartments out on Airbnb as the building leases up or between leases. If they receive this visitor accommodation permit, they will have the option to do that. Time will tell.

Fishtown has seen two boutique hotels constructed over the last few year. A hotel above Wm. Mulherin’s has four stylish rooms and the Lokal Fishtown on Front St. has 6 rooms. Both of these hotels have stunning interiors. There is a 114 room Fishtown hotel project in the works next to Frankford Hall. We have also caught wind of two other potential hotel projects in the neighborhood: an 11 room extended-stay hotel further north on Frankford Avenue, and a 53 room hotel southwest of here in Kensington.

In just a short time, this area could go from zero hotel rooms to more than 200. This is not even including all of the people who rent out houses, apartments, and bedrooms on Airbnb and other popular websites. Do you think the market can absorb all of these hotel rooms? Would you prefer a traditional residential use at 1502-08 Frankford Avenue? Personally, we support the developer’s pursuit of visitor accommodations in their project. If Fishtown wants to continue to grow, the neighborhood needs amenities to support business travelers, tourists, and out-of-towners visiting their family and friends. A neighborhood composed of a majority of single family homes and small apartment buildings will not succeed. Successful neighborhoods need a variety of uses to satisfy the needs of a diverse user base. All of the proposed hotel projects may not be built or could take years to be completed. Developers of some of these projects could decide to build something other than a hotel. 1502-08 Frankford Ave. is already under construction. We should allow the owner to pursue their plan and let the market determine how many hotel rooms the neighborhood needs.

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