by Wesley Ratko
Herbiary, the herbal retailer at 7751 Germantown Ave. that currently hosts three classes per month in a rented space at the rear of 133 E. Mermaid Lane, announced at the their intention to leave that location after their current series of classes end in June. The announcement was made at last night’s Chestnut Hill Community Association Board of Directors meeting.
That decision from Herbiary will end the conflict between the retailer’s owners Andrew Celwyn and Maia Toll, the owner of 133 E. Mermaid Lane Ellen Deacon, and near neighbors on either side of the property, who vigorously opposed Herbiary’s use of the space.
Herbiary’s decision was independent of the board’s unanimously approved motion to oppose the initial variance request that would have allowed the retailer to continue teaching classes in a modified garage building on the rear of the structure, directly behind other homes on E. Mermaid Lane.
In February, the board voted to oppose Herbiary’s classroom use of the property. They did not reverse that decision Thursday night, saying the classes being conducted were not acceptable given the current zoning as a residential property.
Herbiary co-owner Andrew Celwyn read from a prepared statement:
“After careful consideration and assessment of the atmosphere presented by the Chestnut Hill Community Association … we are here this evening to inform you that we will not be continuing to seek a variance for our use on Mermaid Lane,” he said.
Celwyn added that Ellen Deacon, the owner of 133 E. Mermaid Lane, had released Herbiary from its lease . The lease had options that would have gone on as long as 10 years. He also said that Deacon would attempt to convert the classroom space into an additional residence.
“I am so profoundly saddened by this situation,” Deacon said, adding that she would have like to work out some kind of “fair way forward.” Deacon spoke regretfully about her dream of “a benign and unthreatening partnership” that was slowed down by this process.
“This is costing us a lot of money, what you’ve done to us,” she said.
Near neighbor Kristopher Jacobson, the owner of 131 E. Mermaid Lane and the spokesman for the neighbors opposed to Herbiary, countered that the process had been no easer on neighbors.
“This has also cost us money, all because something was done incorrectly,” he said, “This never should have happened.”
Jacobson also observed that converting the garage structure to another residence would require an additional variance, something he would oppose.
Douglas Martenson, another near neighbor, said he was sorry about the sense of “ill-feeling.” He said the issue was about community, but explained that it couldn’t intrude on residential areas.
“We can talk about people’s dreams and aspirations for property, but when it impacts near neighbors to the point that it did then there’s a problem,” said Martenson. “We’re glad the process works, but we’re sorry that it cost a great deal of money on both sides.”
“This was not our intention, to be contentious,” board president Brien Tilley told Deacon.
CHCA board member Joyce Lenhardt introduced a motion to have the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee create a subcommittee that would serve as a resource for community planning, saying that there are a number of “anomalous properties” in Chestnut Hill that should be looked studied. The subcommittee would be made up of property owners and LUPZ committee members, as well as other professionals.
“The LUPZ does a lot of reactionary work, but less actual planning” Lenhardt said, adding that the present was a good time to be more proactive.
The work would benefit a forthcoming effort by the city’s planning commission to remap the entire City of Philadelphia as a means of more judiciously applying the new zoning code adopted by city council last August. The remapping effort will consider community input; this subcommittee would better prepare the Chestnut Hill community to provide that input.
Deacon bristled at the suggestion. “
Who are you to tell me what to do with my property?” she asked.
Lenhardt said that as a property owner she was welcome to participate as a member of that subcommittee.
“I think forming the subcommittee shows that the community recognizes the issue and is being proactive about it,” Lenhardt said.
“As a neighbor I would support this,” Jacobson said of the subcommittee.
Deacon left disappointed, saying that while she has always been willing to talk about the issue, she is the one being told what to do. She said she would welcome the opportunity for further community input.