by Kevin Dicciani

At its June meeting, the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Land Use Planning and Zoning committee rejected a variance regarding the installation of a driveway on 210 E. Evergreen Ave. and approved another concerning a garage addition variance at 8109 St. Martins Lane.

Jonathan and Lindsay Berardino, of 210 E. Evergreen Ave., presented their driveway variance to the LUPZ committee on June 4, after having submitted it to the Development Review Committee for comments and recommendations.

The Berardinos, who moved to E. Evergreen Ave. in 2011, had hoped to install a small driveway on their property in front of their house. They completed a percentage of the installation before being told they needed to get it approved by the committees within the community.

Because the driveway existed in the front of the property and didn’t run along the side of the house toward the back, they were told by the DRC to adjust their plans so that the car and its rear could be parked past the front of the house, as to not obstruct the sidewalk and for aesthetic reasons.

The parking space would not eliminate on-street parking as it is on the opposite side of the street, where parking is prohibited. However, the Berardinos are not using the space to park at this time. The pit in which the driveway was to be installed is currently filled in with gravel.

“We started this work under the assumption that we would be able to do this without paperwork, but once that was brought to our attention we laid the gravel down to match our neighbor’s driveway,” Mr. Berardino said.

LUPZ member Joyce Lenhardt said the plan to install a driveway along the side of the house would understandable if the Berardinos were planning to construct a garage towards the back. Jonathan. Berardino said he did not have the funds to build a garage and was only hoping to extend the width and length of the driveway so the rear of the car made it past the front of the house.

Lenhardt said, with a 7 foot, 9 inch setback zone, the car would technically still be in the front yard. The required front yard setback zone is 8 feet.

Although the Berardinos received multiple signatures from nearby neighbors sympathetic to the idea of installing a parking spot in front of their house, some residents objected to their plans. One resident, Susan Hemphill, who lives at 218 E. Evergreen Ave., said she and her husband were concerned that if the Berardinos sell their house in the future, the next people who move in may have a larger vehicle that does not fit in the driveway and hangs over the sidewalk.

Another resident of E. Evergreen Ave., Eileen Reynolds, voiced her concerns about the driveway, saying it takes “a piece of green” away from their street, which is a “serious concern.”

“It’s putting a piece of asphalt or concrete on E. Evergreen Avenue – what I would refer to as a ‘parking pad,’” Reynolds said. “People refer to this as a driveway, but a driveway generally leads somewhere else, like the back of the house. That’s not the case here. What we are talking about here is a piece of concrete, a pad, on a residential street.”

Lenhardt said that the biggest objection is that a car will be parked in the front yard of a house, which she said is something the LUPZ committee has gone to the city to argue against zoning provisions that would allow it when the zoning ordinance was being rewritten.

“I would certainly be more sensitive or sympathetic to the proposal if you came here with a very detailed plan about how you are going to make this a parking space that had Checker Block and green, but the fact is you’re just planning on putting a slab of concrete in front of your house,” Lenhardt said. “There’s nothing that makes me sympathetic to this proposal.”

LUPZ member Steve Gendler suggested the Berardinos see if they could share the driveway with their neighbors who support its installation, and expand the details of their proposals to lengthen and widen it so that it can go further back away from the front yard.

John Haak, co-chair of the LUPZ, said as a community policy it has fairly consistently discouraged residents from parking in their front yards, even though in certain areas and on certain blocks that is a condition that does exist.

“If you’re asking the community to grant or support a variance, there really needs to be some significant value that’s returned, particularly to the public realm, to the quality of life and the presentation of what is a beautiful block, which, despite the convenience aspect of the fact that you, personally, would have a parking space, the parking spaces tend to detract from the overall appearance of a block, especially when they are in front of the house,” Haak said. “That’s something the community association and this committee, in particular, tries to set a standard for across the board rather than looking at each individual request for a more convenient lifestyle.”

LUPZ member Cynthia Brey recommended that the Berardinos draw up a more detailed presentation before presenting their variance to the DRC. She then made a motion for the committee to reject the proposal.

The committee rejected the proposal with a unanimous 7-0 vote.

The second variance regarded the garage addition variance at 8109 St. Martins Lane.

The proposal concerned the reconfiguration of a five-car garage at the back of the property, owned by John and Christine McDonald. Next to the garage would be the addition of an exercise pavilion. Above the garage, on the second and third floor, a sleeping quarters and a bathroom are to be fitted for guests.

The two garages that exist on the site total 1,085 square feet. The proposal is to reduce the garages from a five-car garage to a three-car garage. A portion of the garage will be used for storage.

There are no near neighbors since the rear of the property faces train-tracks. The garage, because of the location on the property, is invisible to the outside eye. Because of this, the committee found it didn’t detract from the aesthetics of the neighborhood.

A motion was made to approve the variance, and it was approved with a 4-1 vote, with two members abstaining.