by Wesley Ratko
At a sparsely attended Feb. 18 meeting of the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee, three current issues came up for discussion; the future of the fire station at 101 W. Highland Ave., an amendment to the city’s zoning code that would allow the parking of personal vehicles in the front yard of residential properties, and a proposed ordinance that would permit advertising signage on school district property.
Committee member Patricia Cove reported on a meeting she had with 8th District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass regarding these issues.
“It felt like we were heard,” Cove said.
The Chestnut Hill fire station has become an issue because modern fire trucks are wider than their early 20th century counterparts. Using the current, historic station to house new trucks is problematic – the new trucks don’t fit.
As reported by Cove, the Philadelphia Fire Department sought input from the Chestnut Hill Community Association about how to solve the problem of newer model fire trucks exceeding the width of the fire house doors. Potential solutions include building a new fire station, widening the doors of the existing building, or purchasing narrower fire trucks.
Because a new station building would have to be located within Chestnut Hill, the lack of viable sites for one ruled out that solution. But the fire station’s historic status would be compromised if the doors are altered in any way. The only remaining option is to purchase narrower trucks.
Narrower trucks, Cove said, will not only fit through the doors of the existing station, but will also navigate more easily down the narrow streets of Chestnut Hill, an issue with particular relevance this winter with plowed snow making narrow streets even narrower.
Cove reported that the strategy suggested by Councilwoman Bass is to get involved in the budget process through her office. The councilwoman offered to introduce Chestnut Hill representatives to officials with the Department of Public Property at a mayoral budget address on March 6. She also said they were advised to appeal to the city’s Department of Public Property, which would ultimately purchase the narrower trucks. The final decision to do so will be made by Mayor Nutter.
Cove said a follow-up meeting between her delegation, the Philadelphia Fire Department and the Department of Public Property to discuss the final details was planned.
Another issue discussed was the proposed ordinance that would amend the city’s zoning code to allow for parking of personal vehicles in the front yard setback of residential properties throughout the city. When first introduced, the general concern among members of the DRC and LUPZ was that the bill would result in an epidemic of front yard driveways.
Job Itzkowitz, Councilwoman Bass’s deputy chief of staff, told Cove’s delegation that an amendment will be introduced in City Council sometime in the next few weeks that will clarify the language to ensure that the bill only applies to existing driveways.
Cove reported that Itzkowitz assured the group that no new driveways will be created as a result of this amendment.
Cove noted that her group did not actually see the language of this new amendment.
Finally, Cove addressed Bill #130694, which would allow for advertising signage on property owned by the School District of Philadelphia. In Chestnut Hill, this would apply to the J.S. Jenks School at Germantown and Southampton avenues. Cove said her group was told the bill has received a fair amount of push back from organizations throughout the city, and, as a result, the bill is on hold indefinitely.
On that subject, CHCA Community Manager Celeste Hardester related a conversation she had with Mary Tracy of Scenic Philadelphia, an advocacy group that opposes both that bill and a corresponding piece of legislation, #130656, which would legalize all currently illegal billboards in Philadelphia, and legalize an increase in digital billboards. The bill also contains language that would allow for larger and brighter digital billboards.
Hardester reported that Scenic Philadelphia is working with the Crosstown Coalition to engage with Councilpersons Bobby Henon and Bill Greenlee, the bill’s sponsors.
She asked whether the DRC wanted to make a formal recommendation about the bills.
Cove said she’d be willing to support any formal opposition other groups are undertaking, but was unsure whether the issue was one Chestnut Hill needed to take on directly.
Committee co-chair John Landis said it didn’t make sense to take a position until more is known about what the bills say.
“We might take a general attitude against digital billboards in residential areas,” he said.
Ultimately no formal recommendation was made.