by Wesley Ratko

A proposal to subdivide a two-acre property at 179 Hillcrest Ave. to create two lots and construct a second home has been withdrawn from the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s land development review process by the property’s owners.

That announcement was made by Larry McEwen, co-chair of the CHCA’s Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee at the committee’s Nov. 19 meeting. The issue will now be decided by the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Later, at a meeting of the CHCA board on Thursday, Nov. 21, the board voted to empower the CHCA’s Executive Committee to issue a letter of opposition to the project when it goes before the ZBA.

Representatives of the owners of 179 Hillcrest, John and Elizabeth Shober, first presented the plan to the Land Use Planning and Zoning committee in June, seeking support for a zoning variance that would allow the second lot. They were met with strong resistance from the surrounding neighbors who worried that the location of the proposed building envelope for the second home would ruin their view of woods and a meadow, and that the unchecked flow of storm water off the property would turn Hillcrest and Meadowbrook avenues into “rivers.”

At the LUPZ’s July meeting, the Shobers’ representatives failed to appear as expected, leaving neighbors angry, which allowed them to express their frustrations to LUPZ members.

McEwen said a subsequent meeting between himself, the near neighbors and the Shobers’ representatives – lawyer Carl Primavera and land planner Richard Collier Jr. – failed to produce any agreement from the neighbors. A sketch plan presented by Primavera and Collier failed to move the neighbors, which prompted the decision by the Shobers to withdraw from the CHCA process and take their chances with the ZBA.

“We generally don’t want to appear to be a threatening group,” McEwen said, adding that the CHCA process is meant to help everyone by strengthening plans and relationships in the neighborhood.

“We want to discourage people getting the advice that it’s OK to skip our process,” said LUPZ committee member John Landis.

Philadelphia zoning regulations require a certain amount of a property’s border to abut the street along which it is located – what is known as the frontage. A property where only a small amount of that frontage abuts the street is called a “flag lot” and city rules are written to discourage them. The proposed second lot at 179 Hillcrest would be a flag lot and, without a variance from the zoning code, the city will reject the proposal.

The committee took no formal action on this matter.

Later in the week, the issue came up at the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s board meeting on Nov. 21.

McEwen told board members that in response to the Shobers’ rejection of the process, the Development Review Committee was prepared to recommend that the CHCA oppose granting the variance when the matter goes before the ZBA. He said the reason for doing so had more to do with the state of the proposal and its potential to negatively impact the neighbors rather than the rejection of the DRC process.

A ZBA hearing on the matter has not yet been scheduled.

Board member Richard Snowden asked whether Morris Arboretum had provided any information or input. “They are the nearest neighbor,” he said.

McEwen acknowledged that while they were the closest neighbor, the concern on the part of the neighbors and DRC has more to do with the potential impacts that storm water runoff will have on neighboring properties downhill from 179 Hillcrest and who will be most impacted by it.

He said an on-site septic system requires a minimum of one acre, and adding the necessary storm water facilities to manage runoff requires that the location of the house and garage needs to be carefully considered. The arboretum is in favor of granting the variance, but the neighbors are not.

McEwen said the neighbors have collectively retained counsel. Carl Primavera, the attorney for the Shobers, told McEwen that while the applicants will no longer send representatives to DRC meetings, both he and the neighbor’s counsel continue to negotiate.

The board approved a motion put forward by member Chris Padova that gives the Executive Committee the power to issue an opposition letter if both parties fail to reach an agreement before the matter is addressed by the ZBA.