by Wesley Ratko
The September 6 meeting of the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee had but one item : a request for support of a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment to allow Chill on the Hill, a frozen yogurt store proposed for 5 E Highland Avenue, to operate. Under the old zoning district, a variance was needed to sell prepared food at this location.
On August 22, however, Philadelphia’s new zoning code went into effect, changing the zoning district of 5 E. Highland Avenue from C-2 commercial to CMX-2 commercial.
This new zoning allows the sale of prepared food and, therefore, the owners of Chill no longer need a variance or support from the Chestnut Hill Community Association in order to open their business.
Still, both owners attended the meeting and committee co-chair Ned Mitinger, acting as chair, used the time to foster a discussion between the near neighbors and the business owners, Alison Shoemaker and Leslie Newbold, to address and clarify any remaining differences between them.
Near neighbor and CHCA Board member Laura Lucas addressed the committee, saying she and her contingent of fellow neighbors are concerned about the operating hours for the shop and asked to see them in writing.
“That would help to reassure us,” Lucas said.
Shoemaker and Newbold agreed to write a letter, addressed to the Community Manager Celeste Hardester, stating that Chill’s closing time Sunday through Thursday would not extend past 9 p.m. during the week and 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. In addition, Shoemaker assured the neighbors that the business had no plans to open before 11 a.m.
Lucas told committee members that she has already received a letter from Shoemaker and Newbold that details their intended steps to control loitering in and around Chill, and that the letter’s contents were acceptable.
Neither of these letters will be legally binding documents.
“It’s not a legal-type thing but a strong moral commitment,” said Mitinger. LUPZ member John Landis elaborated, saying they serve as a matter of record that memorializes the agreement.
“People’s memories fade pretty quickly,” Landis said.
Shoemaker and Newbold told the committee that seating would be provided inside the store. Five chairs and five small tables, as well as a counter and three bar stools would give patrons a place to sit. Lucas asked if they had any space for benches or other seating outside the establishment. Shoemaker and Newbold said no, they lacked the space. Newbold suggested there could be a small bench with room for two people but there were no immediate plans for any. Lucas told the committee the neighbors oppose any outside seating.
LUPZ member Steve Gendler defended outside seating, referring to benches outside of Bredenbeck’s Bakery at 8126 Germantown Avenue.
“There’s a life in the village quality about that kind of gathering,” he said.
Lucas pointed out that Bredenbeck’s has a setback from the Avenue, which provides more space for outdoor seating than what is present on East Highland. She added that outdoor seating would block the sidewalk.
Shoemaker and Newbold hope to have “quite a few” employees in rotating shifts.
“Several of the resumes we’ve received are local people,” Shoemaker said.
They plan to encourage employees to walk, bike, or take public transportation, rather than drive. Despite this, Joyce Lenhardt encouraged them to lease a few spaces from the Parking Foundation for employee use in the lot adjacent to the business.
Chill plans to be open year-round, and will offer coffee, tea and hot chocolate during the winter months. None of their products will be manufactured on-site; the business will operate as a dispensary.
LUPZ committee member Larry McEwen reported that they were looking at the lighting in the Highland Avenue lot.
“It’s state of the art circa 1972,” he said, adding that it isn’t compliant with the new zoning. “The most egregious thing about it is that it’s totally unshielded,” he added.
The committee took no formal action.