Plans to subdivide 179 Hillcrest Ave. has nearby neighbors concerned. The property, which has a driveway entrance at the red pin on the lower right of this map, stretches to the large home in the top, center and extends further to the right. (image from Google Maps)

by Wesley Ratko

Several near neighbors raised concerns at the June 6 meeting of the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Land Use and Planning Committee about a proposal to subdivide a two-acre property at 179 Hillcrest Ave., creating a second home where only one now exists.

The property is owned by John and Elizabeth Shober, who occupy a single-family house on the 100,000-square-foot lot.

The proposal presented to the LUPZ would create a second 40,000-square-foot lot that could host a second single-family residence on a predetermined building envelope. The shape and location of that envelope was one of many items of contention.

Lawyer Carl Primavera represented the Shobers and was joined by Richard Collier, Jr., a land planner from Blue Bell. The Shobers were not present at Thursday’s meeting.

Collier presented his plan to divide the 100,000 square foot lot into two separate lots of 60,000 square feet and 40,000 square feet. The Shobers’ existing home would anchor the 60,000 square foot property, leaving the second lot available for sale and the possible construction of a second home.

It is the uncertain fate of this second property that drew the ire of many residents of nearby Hillcrest Road and Meadowbrook Avenue. The rear of their homes face the proposed building envelope and many worried that their now pristine view of woods and meadow would be despoiled by a garage, which the plan indicated could be located only feet from their windows.

Neighbor opposition was voiced by Craig Hartnichek of 185 Hillcrest Ave. Hartnichek and his fellow neighbors were chiefly concerned with the flow of storm water off the property. Many were on-hand to report that heavy rains turn Hillcrest Road and Meadowbrook Avenue into “rivers.”

Collier noted that the construction of facilities to handle storm water needed to be addressed.

“This is not a question of good will,” he said. “State law requires that storm water be handled appropriately.”

He went on to suggest that the construction of storm water management facilities on the site might actually improve the water problems near neighbors are now having.

Hartnichek’s presentation soon became a cross-examination of Collier, who answered questions about his own site plan but refused to speculate about a separate drawing presented by Hartnichek, which featured an 18” storm sewer pipe that was depicted as coming off Meadowbrook Avenue and running partially under the proposed building envelope before ending without an outfall.

Collier said that the site survey on which his drawing was based revealed no such storm water pipe.

Primavera and Collier were at the LUPZ to ask for support of a zoning variance that is needed in order to create the second lot. According to Primavera, their hearing before the Zoning Board of Adjustment has been scheduled for July 11.

Philadelphia zoning regulations require that a certain amount of a property’s border abut the street along which it is located – what is known as “frontage.” A property where only a small amount of that frontage abuts the street is called a “flag lot” and city rules are written to discourage them.

As it is now, the property at 179 Hillcrest is a flag lot, and features a long driveway that connects the house with Hillcrest Avenue.

A second lot on this property would share access on the driveway but would be considered a flag lot as well. Primavera explained that this circumstance is a hardship that prevents the owner from fully using the property and is, therefore, cause for the zoning variance.

Additional neighbor concerns about architectural styles, deer migration into yards, and the construction of a dormitory on the newly created site were also dismissed by Collier.

Apart from the plan to construct a second home on the site was additional uncertainty about whether the Shobers would donate the property to the adjacent Morris Arboretum.

According to Primavera, the Shobers now own the subject property after being asked to purchase it three years ago by the arboretum’s board of directors, who didn’t want to see it bought by a third party. Plans to hand over the entire parcel to the Arboretum fell through, and the Shobers became residents of the house on the site.

Talk about plans to donate the second lot to the arboretum also raised concerns.

One neighbor expressed her general fear of the impact of an institution like the arboretum on a residential neighborhood.

Committee member Larry McEwen suggested the garage building envelope – indicated on the drawing as a separate structure from the home – be relocated as a way of easing neighbor concerns and, he suggested, improving on the garage location by reducing the distance between it and the house.

Committee member Cynthia Brey suggested that Collier and Primavera work with the property owners to develop a few alternatives to the plan that could be presented to the neighbors.

A motion was passed to send the property owners and developers back into talks with their neighbors and attempt to reach a concensus before coming back to the committee.


NOTE:  The original story erroneously reported that the committee passed unanimously a motion to support the variance, provided a number of deed restrictions be imposed by the owners that include fixing the location of the building envelope, preventing future subdivision of the property, prohibiting construction of multi-family housing, and acquiring support letters from the neighbors.

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