by Wesley Ratko
Concerns about the proposed zoning change to the former Magarity site that would affect its density dominated discussion at the Sept. 1 meeting of the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee.
Committee member Joyce Lenhardt presented an update from the subcommittee working group that has met with Bowman Properties, the developer, about the project for 8200 Germantown Ave.
According to Lenhardt, Bowman is planning to introduce legislation to Philadelphia City Council in October that will propose rezoning a major portion of the property to C-3 Commercial, which would allow more dense development on the site than is currently permitted in Chestnut Hill.
According to Lenhardt, Bowman will employ deed restrictions to prevent future development on the site from exceeding what Bowman proposes with this project.
“I’m not convinced it’s the right project for Germantown Avenue,” said LUPZ co-chair John Landis.
Landis said he believed the proposed structure is out of scale with surrounding buildings like the Chestnut Hill Hotel, which the developers have claimed would match the height of the new building.
Lenhardt said her group pushed hard for Bowman to produce a three-dimensional model of the proposed project to better illustrate this.
“It sounds like they’re considering it,” Lenhardt said, although she said she believed they are reluctant to provide one.
Near neighbors present said they were concerned that deed restrictions would not be as strong or enforceable as tighter restrictions in the zoning code. Committee members disagreed, saying that while the deed restriction would not be as transparent, the city couldn’t change a deed restriction the way it could change the zoning. Only the property owner could do that.
Lenhardt said that Bowman had taken design steps to reduce “massing” of the structure, but said they will not reduce the amount of square footage originally proposed.
“They are not flexible in their program,” Lenhardt said. “They are willing to go about it in different ways, but they are not downsizing what has been proposed.”
Lenhardt noted that negotiations were ongoing, but no exact schedule for when the proposal will appear before City Council has been presented to the subcommittee working group.
In an Aug. 22 letter to CHCA president Jane Piotrowski, Bowman Properties owner Richard Snowden promised that his firm will not present the change in zoning to City Council until after the CHCA has had time to review the proposal.
Lenhardt showed the committee an updated sketch plan for discussion purposes that only illustrated proposed minor changes to the driveway configuration where it meets Hartwell Lane, as well as some of the on-street parking on Hartwell. The committee discussed whether the plan could be redrawn to shift the proposed 6-foot buffer from the north side of the site (where the property touches the Cat Clinic) to the south side between the new structure and Hartwell Lane.
“I don’t know if 6 feet of trees is a sufficient buffer,” Lenhardt said.
She said Snowden told her that the owner of the Cat Clinic would not raise a concern over this. The lack of a setback on the north side here could be remedied with a variance.
Committee co-chair Larry McEwen said that additional adjustments to the layout could be made to accommodate some kind of public space
“I think there’s open space here, but I’m not sure it’s public space.” McEwen said, referring to the café area now proposed as part of the Fresh Market concept. He explained that public space is something that would be used by the public.
“Until you make something that has a real frontage [on Germantown Avenue] and is backed up by the building, I don’t think you can call this public space,” McEwen said.
Landis suggested that a better place for public space would be on the northwest corner of Germantown Avenue and Hartwell Lane instead of opposite the proposed café area near the driveway.
“I’m not sure we need to become a café culture,” he said.
Lenhardt said that the CHCA board should get an update at its September meeting (scheduled for Sept. 29), which might only be a written summary. She also hoped that Bowman could present a revised plan to the LUPZ at the next meeting.
“We’re going to give up something, which is broad acceptance of the program, but we want these other things,” Landis said.
Landis proposed a motion that stated that the LUPZ will not consider Bowman’s proposal until items of concern, such as “massing,” building setbacks, public amenities and structure height, are addressed. He added that Bowman need only to address these issues – they need not be solved for the committee to consider the plan.
The committee approved this motion unanimously.
Review RCO Process in New Zoning Code
Discussion also continued this month on the impact the new zoning code – currently being prepared by the Philadelphia Zoning Code Commission – will have on the CHCA development review process.
The proposed new requirement that developers or property owners seeking a zoning variance would have to notify and meet with any Recognized Community Organization representing the affected area of development, concerns committee members by opening the RCO designation to any interested group – not just the CHCA.
Last month, Landis reported on some potential solutions to resolve the issue, one of which involved language that could be added to the code that would exempt the CHCA and make it the de facto RCO in Chestnut Hill
Committee member John Haak said the new code would be accompanied by a zoning administrative manual to clarify how the process of project approval would need to play out. Haak suggested that Philadelphia City Planning Commission regulations might better resolve the “one and done” community meeting concept.
He also said once the new code is approved, a number of “clean up” amendments would be considered. Either of these, he suggested, could also provide a solution.
While the ZCC does not intend to alter what has been written until after it has been reviewed by City Council, the committee decided to have sample language prepared ahead of time. The committee approved unanimously a motion to prepare draft exemption language for submission to the ZCC.
LUPZ seeks member
The LUPZ committee is looking for a new member to replace landscape designer Toby Horton who relocated to Maine earlier this year. All interested Chestnut Hill residents are welcome to apply, although there is a strong preference from the committee for an applicant with a background in landscape architecture. For more information contact Jane Piotrowski at firstname.lastname@example.org