By Wesley Ratko
LUPZ Committee member Joyce Lenhardt presented another update on the negotiations between the neighbors’ subcommittee and Bowman Properties, saying the pace of negotiations is “picking up” but that the group has yet to reach a consensus.
“At the moment, we don’t support the project,” she said.
Lenhardt said two additional meetings, tentatively scheduled for this week, would review revisions made to the design based on feedback received previously from the subcommittee working group.
The development, as proposed by Bowman, is not allowed under the current zoning on the site. Rather than seek relief for the existing zoning, Bowman has decided instead to propose a change in the zoning through legislative action in city council in order to allow the increased density.
LUPZ Committee co-chair John Landis explained to those present that the subcommittee process is simply looking to ensure that the burden imposed by this zoning increase yields benefits to the community as well.
“What are the conditions under which the developer will share their financial benefit with the community?” Landis said. “That’s going to take a fair amount of discussion.”
Plans to introduce a motion to the city council to rezone the property C-3 Commercial have been postponed until next week. In an open letter to Chestnut Hill Community Association President Jane Piotowski, Bowman president Richard Snowden assured the association that Bowman Properties would not seek final determination of the zoning change in City Council until after the project had been subject to the CHCA development review process.
The decision to change the zoning has not been popular with near neighbors. Lenhardt said that an “alternative zoning strategy” is in the works, but she declined to provide any more information, saying only that she felt it was “a positive step.”
Lenhardt briefly discussed the possibility of pursuing the concept “sunset zoning,” in which the new zoning rules that would govern the site would revert back to their current state should the project not be constructed within a five-year period.
She cautioned that those involved aren’t sure such a thing is even possible in Philadelphia and offered her doubts that it was a provision they would see materialize.
Lenhardt reported that the working group presented Bowman with 19 conditions they’d like to see addressed before granting their approval. Among these were requests to reduce the height of the structure, which was denied, and a request for a public gathering space somewhere on the property.
According to Lenhardt, the public space “hasn’t materialized” on any plan they’ve seen. A request for nine-foot landscape buffers around the site to accommodate “substantial trees” hasn’t happened either, but Lenhardt said a more detailed landscaping plan would be presented to the committee soon.
New information about the nine homes planned along the rear of the property facing Shawnee Street prompted concerns about size and massing along the street. A chief concern of both Lenhardt and Landis is that the design places the homes on top of the parking, something unseen in Chestnut Hill.
“There are no firm commitments about the massing and design of these homes,” Landis said.
Some uncertainty remains about the definite locations of the roadway edges along Shawnee Street. Lenhardt said that a request to
Bowman to have a land survey conducted was granted.
LUPZ co-chair Larry McEwen presented a proposed amendment to the city’s new zoning code before city council this week. That amendment, intended to provide protection for established community organizations like the CHCA, was introduced at last month’s meeting, and was written to ensure that established community associations in neighborhoods across the city with established development review processes would not be undermined by the civic design review protocols established in the proposed new zoning code.
The new code requires developers to attend a single meeting with the registered community organization in the project area. There were, however, few requirements for becoming a registered RCO and many feared that other groups could circumvent the CHCA process by registering themselves as RCOs.
Landis thanked McEwen for presenting the amendment he had a hand in crafting but was not the primary author of.
“When the rest of us bailed, he stepped up,” Landis said.
Landis said that the principal question from the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, Zoning Code Commission Executive Director Eva Gladstein and Councilwoman Marian Tasco (9th District) was that a number of registered community organizations (RCOs) would want to be named the primary RCO.
Determining which RCO was the primary would be difficult, and, Landis reported, it’s not a job either City Council or the City Planning
Commission want. According to Landis, Councilwoman Tasco fears political infighting among the various groups seeking primary RCO status.
“Even if the amendment doesn’t pass, it doesn’t mean all is lost,” said Landis. “We could still work through the administrative guidelines process.”
Landis also noted that because of his meeting with Gladstein, the requirements for RCOs in the latest version of the proposed code are stronger than they were before.