by Brendan Sample
The board of the Chestnut Hill Community Association has committed to acting as a mediator between near neighbors and the owners of the Chestnut Hill Hotel after neighbors presented their concerns to the CHCA about a new beer garden added to the hotel’s property in early May.
At the board’s May 25 meeting, neighbors expressed concerns about high levels of noise at late hours, a lack of additional parking and the breaking of a covenant signed in 1981 with the original property owners.
That agreement set up restrictions in the property deed that limited what kind of additions could be made in the future in exchange for the neighbors’ support of the owners obtaining any variances they would need for the property. One of the original signers of the covenant, Jay Overcash, is among the neighbors opposed to the beer garden.
After the neighbors made their presentation to the CHCA, the board considered a number of options for how it could be involved this time around. As the CHCA was not directly involved with the negotiations of the original covenant, and thus did not sign off on the finished agreement, the board decided that it would be best to once again leave any specific negotiations to the neighbors and the hotel ownership.
Even with that in mind, however, board president Laura Lucas said she saw an opportunity to assist in other ways, and thus agreed to put together a mediation group so that the two parties could meet and discuss a solution. This decision proved to be more in line with the CHCA’s involvement with the covenant in 1981, when it helped the neighbors get in touch with city officials that were able to start the negotiation process.
Although this decision represents a step toward finding a solution that will benefit both parties, it will not be one that is realized quickly. Lucas acknowledged that it will take about two to three weeks to put together a mediation group, after which there would still be the actual negotiations, which could also end up in legal action if a new agreement is not made.
Most of those involved with this issue are hoping to avoid a long legal battle, however, and so reaching a mutually beneficial agreement appears to now be the main goal.
This kind of solution was also recommended as the best-case scenario by one of Philadelphia’s top zoning and land-use lawyers, Carl Primavera. In an interview with the Chestnut Hill Local, Primavera applied his expertise to this particular situation, acknowledging that both sides had legitimate grounds on which to support their argument. He also felt, however, that there would be better alternatives to having a drawn-out legal battle that could go on for months.
“I don’t see this as being insolvable in either the short term or long term,” Primavera said. “Every time there’s fighting like this, it chips away at the cement holding the community together … I certainly hope there’s some sort of mediation for this.”
The board also:
- approved the nomination of Terry Mutchler, of Chestnut Hill, to the Local’s own board of directors. Mutchler is an attorney and former journalist who also served as the first executive director of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records. She is perhaps best known for her memoir “Under This Beautiful Dome.”
- laid out further plans for upcoming events, including the kickoff for the Pastorius Park concerts and the annual membership meeting on June 14 and 25, respectively. The kickoff will begin a string of concerts every Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. though the end of July, while the membership meeting will serve as an update of the CHCA, Annual Appeal and the Local for CHCA members.
The next meeting of the CHCA board of directors is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, June 29, at Blossom Philadelphia (formerly United Cerebral Palsy), 102 E. Mermaid Lane.
Brendan Sample can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org