So far 2011 may go down as one of the most busy development years in recent Chestnut Hill memory.
I don’t go back around here too long, but I’ve covered my share of development and zoning brouhahas: The Germantown Avenue Bridge and the Super Fresh (now Pathmark) “Wall” along Mermaid Lane are two favorites.
This year is just about halfway over and, so far, we’ve seen four major projects occupy the pages of the Local. There was the Fresenius Dialysis Center and Green Woods Charter School. The Chestnut Hill College expansion at SugarLoaf has come to a critical point in which the college has received the zoning it wants, but its near neighbors are promising to sue. Last week, the public finally got a full-color view of Bowman Properties’ vision for a grocery store, retail and residential complex for the former Magarity Ford site at 8200 Germantown Ave.
Each proposal inevitably pits two distinct ideas against each other: the peace and quiet of a residential community vs. the development that promises a mix of shiny new buildings, more foot traffic and better business for the Avenue. For neighbors, these projects bear directly on quality of life. For businesses, they are an essential question of the Avenues retail viability.
The Fresh Market proposal hits this intersection with particular force. The plan calls for an attractive, modern development smack in the middle of the Avenue, arguably in a place that could really use it. It also will transform the immediate residential neighborhood, shading residents of West Hartwell lane with five stories of new construction and reversing traffic in front of their homes from west to east.
A lot of those neighbors, though definitely not all, are obviously worried that the Bowman development is too large and will bring too much traffic to the block. Some have pointed out that a new grocery store will needlessly compete with all of the other food purveyors on the Hill, from Top of the Hill Market and the Cheese Shop to Weavers Way and the Farmers Market.
I’ve only talked to a few key business owners in the area, and all are adamantly supportive. All say the development will be a big boon to bringing people to Chestnut Hill. I wouldn’t call their support for Bowman’s proposal desperate, but it’s certainly at a scale for which business people here are hungry. They acknowledge that the market will compete with established businesses here, but even two business people with stake in those well-established businesses say they are OK with that.
The outcome of Bowman’s proposal and whether or not that proposal is endorsed by the Chestnut Hill Community Association poses a tough question: Is a development this size good for Chestnut Hill or not? It’s a tough call to make. And I, for one, am glad I don’t have to make that call because I’m not sure it’s possible without a crystal ball.
I think it’s right for Chestnut Hillers to be worried about preserving the scale of this neighborhood, one that has helped it earn broad recognition as one of Philadelphia’s best neighborhoods and destinations.
On the other hand, Germantown Avenue’s commercial vitality is a key to the neighborhood’s well being that can’t be ignored. As much as neighbors would like things to remain the same, to keep the Avenue vital, Hill residents, particularly those close to the Avenue, need to accept an approporiate level of development.
I think everyone agrees that development on the Avenue is important, but finding that “appropriate level” is a real challenge.