by Wesley Ratko
LUPZ co-chair John Landis appeared before the Development Review Committee last week, Sept. 20, to ask the the committee to endorse an amendment to the proposed city zoning code.
The amendment, co-authored by Landis and LUPZ member Harriet Brumberg, would, if passed by city council, change the proposed zoning language to give priority to existing neighborhood community organizations and their established review procedures when considering zoning variances and rezonings.
Landis’ amendment was later endorsed by the CHCA board, which met Thursday, Sept. 22.The amendment is the prospective solution to an ongoing question of whether the new Philadelphia zoning code would undermine the development review process administered by the Chestnut Hill Community Association.
Under the proposed zoning code, any developer seeking a zoning variance would be required to hold one meeting with a representative community group known as a registered community organization (RCO). An RCO would have to register with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission annually and meet geographic criteria in order to receive recognition and regular updates about developer activity in their communities.
There is general concern among members of the DRC and its partner committees that this new requirement would subvert the established development review process currently in place in Chestnut Hill.
“The city is trying to raise the floor of input,” said Landis. “We just don’t want that to also lower the ceiling on us at the same time.”
Earlier this summer, Landis and LUPZ member Steve Gendler met with Eva Gladstein, the executive director of the Philadelphia Zoning Code Commission to address these concerns and seek a remedy in the zoning language. The two solutions proposed were to request a special exception for Chestnut Hill or new wording that would create a second class of RCO throughout the city. This amendment represents the latter.
Subject to annual review, the CHCA committees responsible for development review would be able to maintain their current status as the de facto community organization.
“There’s a great deal of incentive for us to endorse this,” said Greg Woodring, co-chair of the DRC.
Landis pointed out that the amendment and the committees’ intention to ask city council member Donna Reed Miller to introduce it into city council is a way of bypassing the zoning code commission.
“We’re not asking them to endorse it,” said Landis.
A motion to endorse the amendment was passed unanimously.
Magarity Site Project Subcommittee
Report Traffic, Transportation, and Parking Committee representative to the DRC Tom Hemphill provided an update on talks with Bowman Properties on its proposed development on the former Magarity Ford site at 8200 Germantown Avenue. The subcommittee, which consists of near neighbors, architects, and professionals, has met with Bowman six times now. Hemphill reported some progress, but said that it’s slow.
“They’ve been responsive to some issues and not responsive to others,” Hemphill said.
Woodring added that City Council won’t act immediately on the motion to rezone the Magarity site, so there’s still some time to come to an agreement.
“We’ve been plodding along until the last week or so,” Woodring said.
Woodring said the process will see some urgency now because of the investment required by the developers to introduce the proposal to City Council.
Bowman has announced their intention to submit legislation to the city council to rezone the site as C-3 Commercial.
Hemphill confirmed Bowman’s intention to do so within the next three weeks.
“It’s not in Bowman’s interest to go ahead with the proposal without having something worked out,” Woodring said.
Woodring observed that introducing legislation to change zoning is something that’s not been seen in Chestnut Hill for 30 or 40years. He questioned whether zoning changes will become the norm for getting changes made in Chestnut Hill or whether the process of going through development review will continue.
Landis reported that the subcommittee is working proactively. Rather than telling Bowman what it doesn’t want, they’re working on a proactive agenda that works in favor of the community.
Chestnut Hill Real Estate owner Sanjiv Jain presented a request for two zoning use variances on two of his properties at 7811 and 8612 Germantown Avenue.
Jain presented DRC members with a 56 page proposal for his application for a use variance for 8612 Germantown Avenue. Jain explained that the building features nine interconnected office spaces on the second floor. While the first floor of the building is commercial space with residential use on the third floor, the presence of an office use on the second floor isn’t allowed in the C-1 Commercial district. Jain is asking for a use variance to bring this existing office use into conformity.
Jain also introduced a 40 page application for a similar variance on 7811 Germantown Avenue. Jain described the building as having ten interconnected office spaces for multiple tenants in a building zoned R-5 Residential. The entire building is now used for offices.
Both applications were lengthy due to the letters of support from near neighbors. In both cases the DRC moved to send both applications to the Land Use Planning and Zoning committee for review and comment.
Chestnut Hill Hotel
Greg Woodring mentioned changes to the façade of the Chestnut Hill Hotel that may not maintain the historic character of the building. Woodring acknowledged that because no variance is required for the façade work, there was no need for design review.
Patricia Cove, representing the Historical District Advisory Committee, expressed concerns from the HDAC that the owner intends to install aluminum windows in the historic structure. Cove said the owner was invited to appear before the HDAC but opted not to appear. Cove suggested that the Hotel’s new owner was taking steps to upgrade the building without proper consideration of the building’s historic character.
“I think it’s important that he’s educated about what he’s bought,” said Cove.
The DRC took no formal action on the matter.