Every year at this time, I take a look at the headlines we’ve had in the paper over the last year for two reasons.
The first one is practical. We put together a highlight reel of the past year’s most interesting or newsworthy articles for a recap. It’s always an interesting exercise in which my sense of time is challenged and often shown to be lacking. There are events that I would swear happened in 2014 that occurred only eight months ago.
The second reason is to look for what, if any, trends or issues were evident in our coverage over the past year. And this time, I think that what is absent is the larger story for the year 2015. This might be the first year that at least one major story about zoning did not take up a substantial part of the Local’s front page for an extended period of time.
That absence is a big deal.
In most other years, there’s almost always a big zoning question or debate that takes a great deal of time to decide. In recent years, we’ve had weeks of coverage about the conversion of the old factory at Winston Road and Moreland avenues into the Fresenius Dialysis center. There was a year of meetings leading up to the zoning approval of the new and nearly completed Fresh Market building and One West town homes at the former Magarity site.
But even those stories are several years in the past. Our most recent substantive debate centered on the razing of a 104-year-old home at 415 Moreland Ave. by Blake Development. That house, which the Chestnut Hill Historical Society sought to preserve, was demolished in September 2014. Since then, little zoning news has penetrated the paper other than the relatively unremarkable too-tall fence or the nonconforming front-yard parking pad.
Perhaps the most remarkable neighborhood change to register the attention of Hillers this year was the installation of “speed cushions” on East Gravers and Mermaid lanes.
In the meantime, builders demolished the old Caffette Restaurant at 8136 Ardleigh St. and replaced it with three tightly-situated row homes. It’s a project that, in years past, would have likely spent months in the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s zoning committee process. But this year, they went up without registering much of anything from neighbors or others.
Perhaps it really was just a slow year for zoning. It certainly wasn’t a slow one for Germantown Avenue retail, which continued to expand at a far greater rate than it contracted. We saw a lot of new shops open, even when we lost several long-standing favorites.
But more likely, the 2013 changes to zoning laws that removed multi-meeting requirements from developers have had a greater impact than we realize. At the moment, there have been few zoning projects worth the community’s attention.
But that may change in 2016. The trick will be to make sure we know about it.
— Pete Mazzaccaro