by Wesley Ratko
Owners of the proposed Iron Hill Brewery restaurant at 8400 Germantown Ave. presented plans and architectural renderings to the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee March 15, noting that the design, while similar to others in the group, would be “tailored” to the site.
The partners said they anticipated construction on the $3.5 million project to begin in May, with an anticipated opening in November of this year.
Iron Hill, a regional restaurant company in the Philadelphia area with eight locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, has located many of their establishments in “Main Street” downtowns such as West Chester, Media, and Phoenixville.
Founder Mark Edelson, with partners Kevin Finn and Kevin Davies, presented the plans and spoke about the importance of setting their restaurants in Main Street areas.
“Being a part of a community is very important to us,” Edelson said. “It’s this type of environment that makes Chestnut Hill so appealing.”
Also on hand for the presentation was Neil Sandvold, an architect with Philadelphia-based Sandvold Blanda Architecture and Interiors. Sandvold explained that his firm had designed all of Iron Hill’s restaurants to date. The track record of their work has allowed them to establish a flexible but coherent architectural brand that makes each restaurant unique, but recognizable.
“These are not cookie-cutter designs,” he said, “but rather tailored to specific locations.”
Signature elements of Iron Hill restaurants include a concave copper ceiling inside and brick façade outside.
Edelson noted that the $3.5 million investment in the project was evidence of how seriously committed Iron Hill is to the Chestnut Hill community.
“We are invested in this and really committed to it, putting up that much money for a restaurant that we think is going to be a first-class operation that complements the community,” Edelson said.
Committee co-chairs, Greg Woodring and Larry McEwen, expressed concern that the size of the windows in relation to the façade was potentially too large for the Germantown Avenue setting, noting that the “scale continues getting out of hand.”
“It’s important to maintain the pedestrian scale of the building,” Woodring added.
When asked whether seating would be provided on the sidewalk, Edelson said that the slope of the sidewalks would make outside dining tables difficult. Physical problems aside, Edelson said the permits required by the city to allow sidewalk seating along Germantown Avenue require a different application to the Philadelphia Streets Department, which can’t be filed until the business itself is up and running.
The absence of street trees in the renderings prompted committee member Harriet Brumberg to ask if additional trees could be planted out front. Sandvold said that they planned to use oak barrel planters to soften the façade with greenery.
Brumberg asked whether the restaurant would feature live entertainment. Edelson said no. “We’ve tried it before and it just doesn’t work with our brand,” he added.
About 20 near neighbors were on hand to voice concerns about the impact the restaurant would have on parking, noise, and other nuisances.
“You’re talking ‘food and beer,’ and I’m talking ‘hours, smells, rats, noise, and garbage,’” said near-neighbor Mary Brown, a resident of Gravers Lane.
While she expressed her support of the project and the product Iron Hill was offering, she expressed her frustration with other businesses and the parking problems that already result in her not being able to park outside her house.
“You can encourage people to park in the lot, but they’re going to park in the spot that’s close,” she said.
There are 76 off-street parking spaces behind the building in a lot that wraps around to Highland Avenue. Edelson promised that employees will be required to park away from customer parking, as is the policy at all of their locations.
Woodring replied that he didn’t feel the DRC had the capacity to deal with the parking concerns but that the committee had worked with city code enforcement to ensure that restaurants control their garbage and resulting odors appropriately.
Edelson said the business is accustomed to having near neighbors and is sensitive to the issue of trash removal and its odor.
“Where we currently run our other operations,” Edelson said, “two have residences that are physically located on top of them, and the other six have dense residency within 100 feet.”
“What will happen in the long run is this large company will adjust its policies to the benefit of all the other businesses in Chestnut Hill,” Woodring said.
He added that given Iron Hill’s legal right to move in – it is not seeking any zoning variances – the community association should move forward with comfort that all concerns will be addressed.
The committee took no formal action on the presentation.