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21 apartments planned for Frank Furness church in West Philly

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The zoning board gave the conversion the green light

Frank Furness-designed church at 47th and Kingsessing will be converted into 21 apartments.
Courtesy of Google Streetview

The last remaining space in a Frank Furness-designed church in West Philly will be converted into loft apartments.

Yesterday the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) approved a change of use variance to convert the former church at 4700 Kingsessing Avenue into 21 market-rate apartments. The 25,600-square-foot property is zoned RTA-1, which allows for the accommodation of two-family, semidetached houses on individual lots.

The apartment conversion is the latest and final phase of the adaptive reuse project of the former Church of the Atonement. It was saved from demolition in 2014 after developer Guy Laren of Constellar Corporation and Aaron Wunsch, an assistant professor of historic preservation at University of Pennsylvania, worked to stabilize the structure. The church was designed by Furness and built in 1900, but had fallen into such disrepair that L&I condemned it. Two daycares and one print shop have since leased out spaces in part of the church and the parish building.

Architect Thomas Nickel of Atlantes Architects explained during the zoning meeting that the loft units will be built into each bay of the church, with the bedrooms located on the mezzanine level. The apartments will share a wall with one of the two daycares on the property, although there will not be any connection between the two, except for a shared emergency exit.

Nickel also considered as little as 20 or as much as 25 units, but found 21 to be the best fit for the available square footage and current framework. “We don’t want to go against the historic fabric of the building,” Nickel said.

This isn’t the firm’s first time working on a Frank Furness-designed building. They previously were involved in the renovations of Furness’ Fisher Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania.

Residents of Reinhard Street were represented by lawyer Steve Masters, who expressed concern that parking is not included in the proposed project. The residents have been unhappy with the number of parents who pull in and out of their driveways while picking up children from daycare.

Laren’s son, Colin, said that the type of tenants who might rent the units—i.e. single working professionals, Ph.D. students—most likely will not drive cars, given the church’s proximity to public transportation. In past meetings with residents, he also suggested offering decreased monthly rents to tenants without cars.

This is a zoning document from 2016 that shows the last current floor plan of both buildings and the unoccupied space in the church that will be converted into apartments.

Update: Property owner Colin Laren shared this sample floor plan of the proposed 1-bedroom loft apartments. As for the timeline on the apartment conversion, Laren had this to say in an e-mail: “We are currently finishing the second phase of this project and we hope to get started on the third phase (the apartments) by the end of spring/beginning of summer.”