by Wes Ratko

Both neighbors and members of the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee voiced serious objections to the scale of Bowman Properties’ plans to redevelop the former Magarity Ford site at 8200 Germantown Ave. during the committee’s July 7 meeting

Bowman’s plans for a retail and residential complex anchored by Fresh Market, a grocery store chain based in North Carolina, include construction of nine attached houses that will face Pastorius Park along Shawnee Street. These houses received much greater scrutiny from those in attendance than the same presentation got at the Development Review Committee on June 16.

Architect and local resident Tom Beck called into question statements by Bowman representatives that the project fits into the context of the surrounding neighborhood.

“In all my study of the images that represent the project, I see a woeful disrespect for context generally,” he said.

That echoed a concern of former LUPZ co-chair Greg Woodring, who challenged the position of Bowman attorney Matt McClure that the proposed zoning change and design represent the most appropriate use of the property.

“I don’t see in the plans … any response to the context of the community,” he said.

Woodring said that a lack of landscaping on the site and an overabundance of commercial development works in favor of the developer to the disadvantage of the near neighbors.

Matt McClure, a lawyer for the project, explained that the two-acre site is split by two different zoning districts.

“There is nothing like this [property] in Chestnut Hill,” McClure said. “The site is unique in size, unique in use, unique in zoning.”

At the front, or Germantown Avenue side, of the property, the zoning is C-7 Commercial, which doesn’t allow for any residential use. The rear third of the property is zoned R-5 Residential, which prohibits any commercial development. In order to proceed with the mixed-use plan as presented, the zoning will need to be changed.

“It’s a conundrum,” said McClure. “The property has been zoned out of existence.”

Instead of applying to the Zoning Board of Assessment for a variance to the current zoning, McClure said that, based on the advice of the City Planning Commission, Bowman will attempt to change the zoning with an act of City Council.

The new zoning suggested by the planning commission, however, would allow for even more dense development than what is intended. McClure said that deed restrictions would be placed on the property to prevent unnecessarily dense development from occurring in the future.

“This is a different process altogether – this is actually changing the underlying zoning of the property itself,” McClure said.

That process, he explained, involves introducing legislation before City Council, submitting the proposed change to the planning commission and the Rules Committee for review and comment, and finally a vote by City Council.

“It’s a multi-month process,” he said. “We’re here right now because we want to work through the ‘what’ – what it is we’re proposing.”

Woodring wasn’t satisfied that a commercial development was the right answer for the property and suggested that Fresh Market wasn’t the ideal candidate for this site. His remark prompted applause from the audience. He asked whether any studies had been done to investigate using the site strictly for residential use.

“It’s difficult to imagine how many studies were done,” project manager Seth Shapiro answered.

LUPZ co-chair Cynthia Brey, curious about other alternatives to dealing with the restrictions that the current zoning placed on the site, asked McClure whether the property could be subdivided. McClure answered in the affirmative.

“So you could slice this any way you want to,” Brey said.

McClure said that subdivision was not preferable.

“If you had a split zoning district on your house and in order for you to build you’d have to subdivide your backyard, you might not be too happy either,” he countered.

The question of whether commercial development on the site was appropriate carried over into a question about the need for more storefront space along the Avenue and a fear that more storefront space would simply remain vacant like other storefronts on Germantown Avenue.

“In addition to doing this project, I’m also the president of the Business Improvement District in Chestnut Hill,” Shapiro told the crowd, “which puts me in an advantageous position to know who is coming and who is not.”

He explained that prospective tenants who show interest in coming to the Hill to set up business are only interested in space at the top of the Hill.

“One of the real crucial things that the Magarity site can do is start to shift that gravity,” Shapiro said.”

Shapiro cited a lack of foot traffic on the lower part of the hill as the main reason businesses stay away.

“Something like this will get folks there, and now you have an anchor,” he said.

Shapiro described Fresh Market as a publicly traded North Carolina-based company with more than 100 stores nationwide. In the last two years, he said, the company has begun an expansion into the Northeast region of the country. Its interest is in locating to a mix of places, from neighborhood settings to suburban lifestyle centers.

Shapiro said that roughly 30 percent of its stores are in more dense, neighborhood settings. Notable sites include Miami Beach, Westport, Conn., and Coral Springs, Fla.

“Where typical supermarkets have a mix of 75 percent non-perishable items and 25 percent perishable, Fresh Market touts themselves as having the opposite, with 75 percent of their offerings perishable – such as produce, prepared foods, extensive meat and fish counters, and a bakery,” Shapiro said.

The proposed development is a multi-story building with a 20,000 square-foot grocery store situated off the Avenue behind 6,500 square feet of retail space along the Avenue on the ground floor. Above this, 14 condominium units averaging 2,200 square feet each will be built on the second, third, and fourth floors above the retail stores.

No residential units will be above the grocery store. Below the retail and condos, 19 underground parking spaces are planned. An additional 85 surface parking spaces are planned for the rear of the property.

In addition, the plan proposes a row of nine attached houses along Shawnee Street, with front doors that face Pastorius Park. Each of these homes will feature private covered parking, adjacent to the market’s parking lot. The homes themselves have yet to be designed and were depicted on the plan as featureless forms.

Architects Stan Runyon (with Runyon and Associates) and Richard Gelper (with SPG3) presented the program with architect’s renderings of the proposed building. Their presentation was nearly identical to the one they made on June 16 to the DRC, with two notable additions.

Based on requests from DRC members, Gelper presented architect’s renderings of three views of the site from the backyards of properties along Southampton Avenue. They also presented architect’s renderings of “sun and shadow studies” of the site, which simulates how shadows cast from the completed development will fall on the Avenue and surrounding neighborhoods on both the winter and summer solstices.

Once all public comments were heard, the LUPZ unanimously approved a motion to form a subcommittee working group, which will include near neighbors and meet separately on a smaller scale to discuss the project in more detail and work through some of the issues presented.

Bowman will present the traffic study for the project to the Traffic, Transportation, and Parking Committee on Monday, July 11. 0