By Wesley Ratko
At a meeting of Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee last night, the reaction was mixed to a proposal by Bowman Properties to transform the site of the old Magarity Ford dealership at 8200 Germantown Ave. into a retail and residential development anchored by Fresh Market, a grocery chain based North Carolina.
Of the some 60 people who filled the Main Level Conference Room of Chestnut Hill Hospital, roughly half raised their hands to indicate support for the project. Another half indicated they remained opposed, or at least concerned by the size and scale of the development and its potential impact on the nearby neighborhood.
Community representative and West Southampton Avenue neighbor John Beckman presented the committee with a prepared list of those concerns. The concerns were grouped into topic areas, including zoning change, traffic and parking, land use, urban design, operational issues and the community involvement process. Larry McEwen, co-chair of the Development Review Committee asked those in attendance to raise their hands if they’d contributed to the list. More than 20 people acknowledged having had some involvement.
The project, a mixed-use development that will feature space for small retail shops along Germantown Avenue and 14 condominiums above them, will be anchored by a 20,000-square-foot Fresh Market grocery store. The retail building will be five stories and more than 60 feet high and include an additional 6,500 square feet of retail space along Germantown Avenue. In addition to the commercial property, nine attached houses are planned along Shawnee Street at the rear of the property.
Current zoning for the property will prevent Bowman from moving ahead with the plan as it was presented. But rather than seek variances from the Zoning Board of Adjustment to proceed, Bowman intends to seek a change in the zoning from the current C-7 to C-3 on the site itself, which requires an act of City Council. Bowman attorney Matt McClure assured the crowd that any such action wouldn’t occur until the council resumes its session in the fall.
The most persistent concern voiced by residents was the traffic impact the new project would have on the Avenue and the side streets around the property. Project manager Seth Shapiro, who is also the president of the Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District, showed a diagram illustrating traffic circulation on the site coming off of Germantown Avenue and exiting onto Hartwell Lane. To prevent traffic from circulating through the neighborhood, the proposal includes a change in direction of Hartwell Lane traffic from westbound to eastbound.
As of last night, the traffic study for this project was still incomplete.
Southampton Avenue resident Mike Gonzales expressed his concern that the project was being planned without a completed traffic study.
“What if the study shows it’s too much traffic here?” he asked.
The DRC voted unanimously to send the project to every committee involved in the CHCA review process. The first of which, the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee, meets again July 7 at 8:00 p.m.