by Brendan Sample
In what could be the final decision in a process that began in June of 2015, the Chestnut Hill Community Association has won its appeal against Jonathan and Lindsay Berardino over whether the couple was permitted to install a single-car driveway in front of their house on East Evergreen Avenue.
In a ruling handed down March 3, Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court reversed a decision by Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, which in June of last year upheld a Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment decision to allow the parking space to be built.
Commonwealth Court decided that the ZBA had granted the variance “without findings supported by substantial evidence that physical circumstances unique to the property created an unnecessary hardship.”
Hardships are typically essential in seeking and receiving a variance, however, many variances are issued without.
The CHCA board of directors has since expressed its support of the Commonwealth Court decision, with several board members emphasizing the importance of this ruling in preserving the fabric of the community.
“Our role is really to represent the community and look forward to preserving what’s special about Chestnut Hill and being respectful of zoning, which is everyone’s responsibility,” said CHCA President Laura Lucas.
“Resisting curb cuts is a policy that the LUPZ [Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee] and DRC [Development Review Committee] have adhered to for years,” said Lawrence McEwen, Co-Chair of the LUPZ. “There may be houses with similar parking pads, but they preexist the specific city zoning code. It’s nothing personal toward the owners of the property. It’s really about the visual appearance of the street and how it functions in terms of safety and general efficiency.”
With this ruling now in place, the CHCA has managed to overturn a decision made on behalf of the entire city of Philadelphia, as the ZBA is not specific to Chestnut Hill. The importance of the ruling in those terms is certainly not lost on the board.
“Our clout with the city has eroded over the years, but this decision means that we’re back in terms of how zoning is executed in the neighborhood,” said board member Richard Snowden. “It ultimately returns control to our local process.”
With the East Evergreen residence still up for sale, it’s not clear whether they have any plans to appeal the decision further. The couple has not responded to requests for comment.
If the Berardinos do decide to attempt a further appeal of their case, there is no guarantee that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear it. They would have to submit the appeal and wait upon a decision and potential court date, which would make the entire process considerably longer. If they choose not to appeal, however, then no further steps would need to be taken.
While the CHCA does not feel that a further appeal is likely, at least some of them are still prepared to continue arguing their case if it should come to that.
“A number of board members would be happy to continue the process with this house or others for the sake of conservancy,” Snowden said.
Although the CHCA has been determined to fight this specific instance, the board as a whole does not feel that it is against all development in the community.
“In general, we’ve been pro-development for both residential and commercial functions,” McEwen said. “Our goal isn’t to obstruct, but maybe for those institutions to be able to expand within the pattern of development that’s productive for how Chestnut Hill as a community evolves.”
Brendan Sample can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org