by Kevin Dicciani
After continued opposition from nearby neighbors regarding the development of 2 E. Chestnut Hill Ave., the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee voted to support the developer’s plans to convert the former Gallagher Dentistry Office into a two-unit dwelling and add an additional two-story structure on the site — but only if the new building is moved farther away from a nearby neighbor’s property and the height of its roof is reduced.
In March, when developer Patriot Real Estate Capital sought a variance approval from the LUPZ, nearby neighbors Agnes and David Richardson voiced their concerns about the mass of the previously proposed three-story structure. The Richardsons said its height would intrude on their privacy, and its shadows would have a negative impact on their backyard.
Though largely pleased with the plans, the LUPZ took the Richardson’s concerns into account and asked the developers to revise their plans to include an updated shadow study and to reduce the impact the structure would have on the Richardson’s property.
Jeremy Lecompte, of Harman Deutsch Architecture, told the LUPZ and neighbors on May 5 that the most dramatic aspect of redesign has been the reduction in the number of dwelling units on the site. Previously, the plans called for the proposed three-story structure to house two-units, but Lecompte said it has now been redesigned as a detached, single-family home, with two stories rather than three. In addition, he said the height of the building has been lowered.
Stuart Udis, a principal at Patriot Real Estate Capital, said the developers have also altered the density of the existing building. Instead of the proposed three-bedroom unit on the first floor, it will now contain two bedrooms, he said. The second-floor dwelling is still planned as a three-bedroom unit.
Parking was another issue the redesigns addressed, Lecompte said. In prior designs, the developers wanted to build six parking stalls beside the proposed structure along a shared driveway that connects to Chestnut Hill Avenue. Lecompte said the proposed two-story structure will now contain four interior parking stalls that will accommodate residents who live in both the new and existing buildings.
Lecompte said shadows from the proposed structure would most affect the Richardson’s backyard during winter. Late in the afternoon, the shadows would impact the Richardson’s sunroom and backyard more than usual, which Lecompte called “the worst case scenario.”
LUPZ member Andrew Moroz said the subcommittee overseeing the development was impressed by the redesigns. He said they were pleased the developer attempted to address every concern of the committees and the neighbors by making the proposed structure smaller and less dense.
“We’re confident that they earnestly addressed the issues of the neighbors, to the extent that they could and still having a viable project and something that would not be a burden on the neighborhood,” Moroz said.
Moroz said the development will serve a purpose on that part of the Avenue in terms of aesthetics and use.
“We believe it plugs a visual gap on Germantown Avenue,” Moroz said. “And from a use point of view, it strengthens a residential street, which is surrounded pretty fairly by institutional and commercial uses.”
Patricia Cove, vice president of preservation for the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, said that the CHHS was “very satisfied with how the developers addressed our concerns.”
“As always, we were very happy that they’re preserving the existing, historic building and reusing that building as a residence, which is very important,” Cove said. “We were also happy with the materials they chose, and especially all the efforts they put into studying the community and trying to emulate the materials and overall look of similar buildings.”
Despite the positive reactions the developers received about the project from the LUPZ, near-neighbor Jeremy Heep said that he had a petition with 28 signatures from other residents who also oppose the development. He said they are most concerned that the development will “be too much” for the site.
Lecompte said the height and massing of the proposed structure is comparative in size to existing structures on the site and street. The proposed two-story structure, he said, is actually lower than the existing building, which stands at 41 feet tall. He said the proposed height of 38 feet is “appropriate for where it is in its context.”
Replying to a question from a neighbor who asked if the proposed two-story structure could be redesigned as a carriage house, Michael Stamm, of Patriot Real Estate, said that doing so would prevent them from developing the site in a manner that reflected the aesthetics of Chestnut Hill.
“The size of the structure allows us to hit certain price points so that we can use the Wissahickon schist, use better materials, and so that we can renovate the existing building, go for the facade easement,” Stamm said. “All of those things aren’t feasible unless we sell these at certain figures, and doing a small carriage house in the back is just not economically feasible on this site.”
Despite the alterations, David Richardson said that the size of the building is “just too big.” He said in the winter a quarter of his property will fall in shade, particularly his sunroom. He asked the LUPZ to support his and other neighbor’s opposition to the development, which he said is being done by “a developer that’s coming in just to make a few dollars.”
Stamm said that if he and the developer were in it to make money, they “wouldn’t have tried to incorporate all of the nearby neighbor’s input over the last five months.”
“We’re not two brash developers that have come into this neighborhood and tried to take it by storm and pull a quick one on anyone,” Stamm said. “We’ve thoroughly incorporated the character of your neighborhood — from the aesthetic design to addressing density, parking, and meeting with a dozen committees and nearby neighbors.”
Larry McEwen, co-chair of the LUPZ, asked if the roof of the proposed structure could be lowered by at least two or three feet. If its height and pitch could be slightly reduced and if was moved a few feet off the Richardson’s property and closer to the street, McEwen said he was optimistic that it could solve the neighbor’s issues, all without dramatically compromising the look of the building or size of its interior.
Stamm asked if doing another redesign to reflect those recommendations would satisfy the neighbors, or if it would only lead to more requests for the developers to modify the plans.
If the height of the building was reduced and it was moved farther away from his property, Richardson said he could “see himself getting on board at that point and giving you my support.”
Referencing the petition with 28 signatures from neighbors in opposition to the development, McEwen said it was “inadmissible.” He said almost all of the people who signed it haven’t been regularly attending the meetings and therefore aren’t fully up to date on the current drawings or the dialogue surrounding the project.
McEwen made a motion to support the developer’s current designs, but under the condition that the structure is moved two feet forward and its roof is reduced by three feet, or an equivalent combination of the two.
The motion passed with a 3-1 vote, with one abstention.
The developers will bring their redesign to the May 17 meeting of the CHCA’s Development Review Committee.