U City apartment barons talk to Spruce Hill residents about renovations, retail

November 11, 2015

SHCA meeting

Matt Pestronk of Post Brothers speaking at the annual Spruce Hill Community Association meeting. (Photo West Philly Local)

Matt Pestronk did something at last night’s annual Spruce Hill Community Association (SHCA) member meeting that property developers rarely do anymore in the neighborhood. He voluntarily showed up and answered questions from residents about the reasons his company, Post Brothers, plans to spend some $250 million on apartment buildings, including the newly purchased Garden Court Plaza building at 47th and Pine.

Pestronk, who owns the company with his brother Michael, took questions ranging from whether they would allow pets in their buildings (an emphatic “yes” on that one) to whether Post Brothers would convert any rental units into condos and put them up for sale (probably not).

The company has acquired several buildings in recent years including: 4311 Spruce Street; The Netherlands at 4300 Chestnut; Chester Plaza at Farragut and Chester; Chester Hall at 4205 Chester; Hamilton Court at 3800 Chestnut; and Garden Court Plaza. Altogether, they have accrued about 550 units. 

“I would say that if there was a single fact that [lead us] to invest here was that we watched what happened in this neighborhood during the recession,” said Pestronk, a former history major at Drexel. “In other parts of the city, development was just dead. This neighborhood kept growing.”

Pestronk said one of the company’s first priorities is to shore up ground-level retail.

“We want to have as many active businesses there attracting customers (and foot traffic) as possible,” he said. “Banks, coffee, hair, food.”

Pestronk said he is interested in what residents want in retail. While this is great news for many, some existing businesses may not fit in. At Garden Court Plaza, for example, Pestronk said that the Take the Lead dance studio occupies the most valuable retail spot (on the northwest corner of 47th and Pine) but may not be the best business for that spot.

Post Brothers will be renovating several of the buildings in coming years, but Pestronk added that they will not necessarily target young students.

“A lot of what we bought is oriented toward students and one thing we noticed is that there could be a ‘gentler’ use for our apartments,” he said.

Several Garden Court Plaza residents, some of whom have lived in the building for more than 20 years, voiced concerns at the meeting about being priced out of their apartments. Renovation and upgrades are planned for most units, Pestronk said. He didn’t provide specific figures on rent increases.

Pestronk’s appearance at the meeting was unusual because he didn’t need anything from the SHCA. All of the buildings are already constructed so they don’t need zoning approval, like most developers.

Most developers are afraid of the neighborhood, said SHCA zoning chair Barry Grossbach. They know it’s a lucrative market, he said, but they are afraid of proposing anything that needs zoning changes, especially after the very public and protracted legal battle over the property at 40th and Pine. The result is buildings that are constructed “by right,” which exempts developers from navigating the zoning process and public hearings. These “by right” projects are often out of character with nearby buildings.

“The word is out about this neighborhood,” said Grossbach. “We don’t have very many people reach out to the community like this.”

Mike Lyons

3 Comments For This Post

  1. watchcat Says:

    The obvious question is what do we need to do to eliminate this “by right” b.s.?

  2. mds chill Says:

    I know that one must often bow to the market but it’s a shame that Pestronk and Post are clearly prepping to kick Take The Lead out.

  3. SMH Says:

    “By right” means its allowed by default because its not supposed to change the density or usage from what is explicitly allowed by law. Its just saying something is zoned “residential” means something very different in West Philly versus Far North East versus Old City. The generalness of the zoning code does not correspond to the specific setbacks and architectual environment of this neighborhood. We need some general overlays that says 90% of the houses on this block have say, a front porch and a 20 foot set back from the curb, infill should match that set back and some sort of front porch to if its going to be allowed by default.

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