The fence at 401 E. Willow Grove Avenue.

The fence at 401 E. Willow Grove Avenue.

by Wesley Ratko

The Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Land Use Planning and Zoning committee voted to support resident Laura Stanton’s request for a variance that would allow her to keep the 6-foot, solid stockade fence now surrounding her property at 401 E. Willow Grove Avenue, despite its nonconformance with city zoning, which requires that fences be no higher than 4 feet with openings.

That support comes with three conditions. Stanton must paint or stain the fence a neutral color, though no specifics were given as to what constitutes neutral. She must also plant and maintain landscape treatments along the base of the fence on both the Willow Grove Avenue and Crittenden Street sides. And, most importantly, the committee said she could not maintain the fence in any way that would extend its natural life.

Committee member Joyce Lenhardt stipulated that additional language be included that would limit this variance to this fence and this property owner. It won’t stay with the property if Stanton moves, and it won’t apply to any replacement fence that might later be installed on the property.

Landis expressed concern that others will try to use the loophole created by this vote of support, something he’d like to avoid.

Support for Stanton’s request came after she reviewed the results of a survey she took of her neighbors. Thirty-two respondents to her survey said they felt the fence along her property was a community benefit.

In addition to the survey, she distributed letters of support from her neighbors (something the DRC asked her to provide) and photos of typical plantings under a stockade fence similar to hers that she is willing to place and maintain around her own property.

“I really don’t want to take it down,” Stanton said.

She added that the fence has value to it and that she would rather spend the money to enhance the fence than take it down. She also reiterated her reasons for wanting to keep the fence, which included the use of Crittenden Street as spill over parking from riders the Wyndmoor train station, the disposal of “vile refuse” onto the sidewalk along Willow Grove Avenue, and the fact that she has a large dog capable of bounding over the fence.

“We agree that Willow Grove Avenue is noisy and has traffic,” said Landis, who complemented Stanton on the work she did to reach out to neighbors and present that to the committee. But Landis cautioned that granting support for a nonconforming fence was a “slippery slope.”

Committee member Jean McCoubrey expressed her opposition to any new fence that breaks the law. She said that a solid fence like this one takes something away from the community, but that she will accept the landscape treatments as a way of giving something back to the community.

Committee member Steve Gendler said that this was the one part of Chestnut Hill he didn’t enjoy walking through. Lenhardt suggested that fences like this one contribute to that feeling. She said that a solid fence detracts from a sense of neighborhood.

“I don’t see the public good a fence provides,” she said.

“The circumstances support a fence along Willow Grove Avenue,” said committee member Andrew Moroz. “But we should enforce what’s required along Crittenden.”

“You have a beautiful house,” Lenhardt said, “it’s too bad no one can see it.”

Stanton was asked to return to the DRC on May 20 and the CHCA board meeting on May 22 to finalize support from the Chestnut Hill Community Association.

Weavers Way

Weavers Way Co-op, represented by store manager Dean Stefano, finance director Susan Beattle, and its attorney Ralph Pinkus, presented plans to replace a tent along the side of the building with a new cold-storage unit that would improve the store’s capacity to store refrigerated goods. “The co-op is a victim of its own success,” Pinkus said.

According to Pinkus, an application to the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections was filed to allow for a cooler with a total footprint of 159 square feet. Because refrigerator space is limited, pallet shipments must be broken down and stored in the truck at the back. The new cooler will accommodate whole pallets via a sliding door.

The unit does not have its own compressor – it will connect to an existing unit or “rack” above the store now. As a result, no additional noise is anticipated. In addition, the application to L&I also will seek permission to place a storage shed for dry goods at the rear of the store, and settle an issue regarding the legality of second-floor office space.

A focus of the committee’s attention was on the parking lot in the rear of the building, which, according to Pinkus is owned by Acadia, which also owns the buildings that house Joseph A. Banks and Iron Hill Brewery. Access to the parking lot is granted by a simple cooperative agreement with Acadia. No formal easement exists.

Four of the six Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee are members of the co-op, a fact that prompted committee members to ask whether there was a conflict of interest in voting to recommend support. Landis said he didn’t believe that there was any conflict and said that a note would in the minutes acknowledging that membership would be sufficient. Landis thanked Weavers Way for all it does for the community.

Steve Gendler asked whether there were plans to expand the co-op operation. Pinkus responded that that depends on the development of “another site proposed just down the street.”

The committee agreed unanimously to support all three items presented for review, subject to the condition that the shed be repainted to match the other shed currently on the property. Committee member Joyce Lenhardt urged that more focus be placed on the appearance of the back of the building and asked that more landscaping be provided around the shed.

Landis said he didn’t want to legislate aesthetics but urged the inclusion of some improvements to the shed area. Lenhardt wants the dumpsters screened or relocated. Pinkus said he’d try to implement these, but couldn’t promise any changes would be in place by the next DRC meeting on May 20. The co-op did, however, pledge to paint the rear of the building, now gray, the same tan color to match the front of the store.