by Pete Mazzaccaro 

This week we carry a follow-up story on the zoning request by the owners of Herbiary to run classes out of a converted garage at 133 E. Mermaid Lane. The classes, or “herbal consultations” as they’ve been called by Herbiary’s owners, are small affairs that bring a dozen or more people to the garage.

Near neighbors of the E. Mermaid Lane property, on a residential section of the street across from United Cerebral Palsy and the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting, are understandably less than thrilled about a business in the middle of their block – one that no doubt will bring more people to park on what is already a relatively crowded street. And, as neighbors have said, it brings crowds, however small, too near to their back yards, disrupting their privacy.

This issue, like so many others in Chestnut Hill, demonstrates just how tough a job it is to strike a balance in Chestnut Hill between those business concerns that all would agree are vital to the longterm welfare and vitality of the neighborhood, and the rights of residents who are no less important not only to the neighborhood’s vitality but to the businesses themselves. Study after study has shown that most businesses draw their customers from within five miles.

Thus the Chestnut Hill Community Association and its committees that deal with zoning issues – the Development Review Committee and the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee – are routinely put in the tough position of playing the role of arbiter when these interests collide, which they routinely do.

A while back, when it looked like the CHCA very well might lose all of its zoning clout in new zoning rules passed last year by the city, I wrote in this space that I thought that it would be to the association’s benefit. It would no longer need to play the role of arbiter, in which one party or another will invariably feel aggrieved and likely not think well of the CHCA’s role in the decision making. As fair as the LUPZ and DRC are, in the end they must decide, and often that decision will rankle one of the parties.

The CHCA has been knocked for being pro business. Some have said the CHCA should, instead, advocate for residents no matter what – a safeguard, so to speak, against encroaching commercial interests.

I think there’s a pretty fair argument to be made for that model. In fact, I’m sure many would say: “Yeah. Why not? There are other organizations that advocate for businesses. Residents could use a champion.”

Of course as popular as that might be with residents in every corner of the neighborhood, it would no doubt fuel the usual NIMBYism that would run nearly unchecked. It’s doubtful that the CHCA would retain any influence over zoning matters if it took a one-sided path of advocacy. Businesses would know they wouldn’t get a fair hearing and avoid the CHCA altogether. It would probably do even more to split residents and the business community.

So, the balancing act is a tough one, and maybe it’s a necessary one. It’s not a proposition to gain popularity for the CHCA, but it does help the organization to have a say in neighborhood zoning, even if that say has been reduced somewhat by the new rules. The LUPZ suggested a compromise for Herbiary that would keep classes from meeting after business hours. It seems a reasonable compromise. About the best balancing act you could hope for.

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