New micro apartments and artist studios are proposed in South Kensington

The owner of the Sponge Factory Lofts at 1325 N. Fifth St. in South Kensington is proposing a major expansion of the existing apartment structure, tripling the amount of housing by putting micro units in an addition to the building.

The existing building is a four-story red brick structure with 32 units consisting of one- and two-bedroom apartments. The developer — listed only as PP Sponge LLC — is proposing a six-story addition with 60 studio units of 400 to 420 square feet.

“This building is comprised predominantly of micro units, which have helped produce a natural affordability and lower rent to the neighborhood,” said Rustin Ohler, principal with Harman Deutsch Ohler Architecture. “We will be utilizing some modern furniture with built-in components.”

Each unit will have a private balcony, and the company is looking at installing “cloud bed studios” from a company called Ori, which can ascend to the ceiling during the day revealing a couch.

A pool is planned for the courtyard, encircled by a deck and landscaping.

The housing will be concentrated on floors two through six of the addition, with the ground floor devoted to parking. There will be 13 parking spaces on-site, and half of them will be supplied with electric vehicle charging stations.

The project’s building materials are designed to match the factory and rowhouse aesthetic of this part of Kensington.

“It’s predominantly red massing,” Ohler said, “red brick on both street faces [like] a modern warehouse-style building, which exist numerously around Kensington.”

The project is on a lot that is zoned for industrial-residential use. The building contains 11,100 square feet of industrial space for 13 artist studios, ranging from 300 to 800 square feet apiece (with the capability of being combined depending on tenant need).

In a November meeting with the local neighborhood group, South Kensington Community Partners, attendees offered almost uniformly negative reactions.

Critiques included concerns about the building’s height, which will be several stories taller than its surroundings, and with the size of the units. Neighbors feel that most new apartments in the neighborhood have been built for single tenants, and that such offerings are overrepresented in the area.

They also critiqued the location of the artist studios, some of which will have little access to natural light.

“The main concern is the sense that the proposed development is packing as many residential units as possible onto the site and leaving the industrial uses as an afterthought to meet the requirements of the IRMX zoning,” reads a letter from Marco Gorini, chair of the community group’s Planning and Zoning Committee.

The Sponge Factory Lofts expansion does not require zoning board or historical commission approvals, however, and the neighborhood group can have little influence over its final form. The project will be considered by the advisory Civic Design Review committee next month.

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