by Wesley Ratko
A proposed self-serve frozen yogurt business at 5 East Highland Ave., formerly Balance fitness, was the subject of some controversy at the August meeting of the Development Review Committee last night. More than a dozen residents and near neighbors turned out to voice their opinions both for and against the proposal.
Businesswomen Alison Shoemaker and Leslie Newbold made their initial presentation before the committee Tuesday night, which is the first step in the month-long process of review that they hope will result in getting community association support for a variance.
Shoemaker told the committee that their plan is for an environmentally-friendly, family-oriented self-serve frozen yogurt business that would offer minimal seating inside, no seating outside, be “very environmentally conscious” and marketed to young families.
Opponents of the plan, however, said they were concerned that the business would serve as a potential focus point for teenage loitering, something near-neighbors say is already a problem in the adjacent Highland Avenue parking lot.
Shoemaker said that if their proposal is approved, they anticipate being open until 9 p.m. on weeknights and 10 p.m. on weekends. They added that those hours are not set in stone and could change depending on the amount of business.
Land Use Planning and Zoning committee co-chair (and father to two teenage boys), Larry McEwen expressed his support for the project even if it becomes a “hangout,” given the lack of places in Chestnut Hill where teens can congregate.
Not everyone was as supportive.
Near neighbor and CHCA Board member Laura Lucas said she and her neighbors were concerned that there hasn’t been enough “transparency” in the planning process for this business, but that the presentation had addressed many of those concerns. She added that there are other worries regarding loitering, trash, and parking.
“We do have a loitering problem in our area,” she said, adding that people tend to congregate in the parking lot off Highland Avenue.
Near neighbor Carol Michaels, who shared concerns about transparency, loitering, and hours, asked the applicants whether they considered space on Germantown Avenue instead of along Highland Avenue where she believed the business might be better suited.
“Our property values are of a concern,” she said.
Shoemaker said they had looked at several locations along the Avenue but that they liked the Highland Avenue location.
As the tone of the discussion inched toward linking an increase in crime in Chestnut Hill with certain businesses, McEwen cautioned against the cause and effect relationship between where crime occurs and where businesses are located. “We need to separate this proposal from the criminal activity we’re seeing along the Avenue,” said McEwen.
CHCA Board member Elizabeth Bales told the committee that the community association has a proven track record of forming committees that help neighbors and business owners discuss and resolve their differences.
“I’m very optimistic we’ll be able to sort this out,” she said.
The DRC closed discussion by referring the plans to the Aesthetics and Land Use Planning and Zoning Committees.
The Eye Institute
A new eye care clinic is moving to Chestnut Hill. The Eye Institute, the clinical practice of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University, will move its operations from 7145 Germantown Ave. in Mount Airy to 7630 Germantown Ave.
The office will occupy the former TLA Video and will be one of three eye-care clinics in Philadelphia under The Eye Institute banner. (The others are in Oak Lane and East Falls.) This will take the place of a Rita’s Water Ice proposed for the site earlier this year. The institute plans to be open by Sept. 5.
Dr. Susan Oleszewski, Vice-President of Patient Care Services, presented several renderings of the proposed storefront to the DRC Tuesday night. She told the committee that The Eye Institute is proposing to install a cloth awning on an aluminum frame over two-thirds of the storefront, with overhead illumination.
DRC member Patricia Cove said the Aesthetics Committee was pleased with the design. DRC member Cynthia Brey, however, brought up the question of design standards and whether the property owner had ever provided any to the DRC. Cove said there have been attempts to contact the owner and work with him.
“This is a first step,” she said.
Brey added that she believed the awning didn’t match the façade. Cove countered that they were looking for ways to soften the façade, and to try and find a way to distinguish the businesses in the strip mall from each other.
DRC co-chair John Landis said he’d like to see a review of the privacy screening over the windows at the front of the building, saying it looked like white contact paper will be applied to the glass door.
“We don’t want to slow down your process,” said Landis, “but would you meet with our Aesthetics committee again in selecting a material for the window coverings?”
The DRC voted to support the awning and signs, provided The Eye Institute work with the Aesthetics Committee to make all necessary additional changes.