by Brendan Sample

A Doylestown company wants to bring an escape room to Chestnut Hill. At its last meeting on Thursday, September 6, the Chestnut Hill Community Association Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee voted to approve the proposed escape room, which would be set up at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post on 8217 Germantown Ave.

An escape room is a puzzle game typically played in teams where players have to solve a mystery or riddle using clues spread out in a large room. The rooms typically follow a distinctive theme and must be solved within a fixed time limit.

The escape room would be set up on the second floor of the VFW building, with the VFW members moving their meetings from the second floor to the basement. Under the CMX 2.5 zoning designation, the two organizations fall under the “assembly and entertainment” and “fraternal” categories, respectively, both of which require a special exception for making changes such as these. Instead of having to prove a hardship as they would with seeking a variance, a special exception simply requires them to go through a similar process to see if there is any specific opposition to the proposals.

Although the VFW building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the escape room would be set up in a way that would not require any actual construction. There is no proposed change to the structure of the property, as everything that will be set up can also be taken down with relative ease.

VFW members in attendance also mentioned their idea to renovate the abandoned third floor of the building into two apartments, although that was not part of any official application.

This did raise some concern among LUPZ members, as there is currently no way to access that floor directly, which they felt could cause issues after the escape room has been installed. The VFW does, however, have plans to install stairs to the third floor, and will further address the situation if they decide to officially put that application through. With the special exception set to only approve of the escape room and nothing else under the “assembly and entertainment” category, the LUPZ voted to approve the proposals.

The committee also voted on a proposal to replace a fence on 421 West Mermaid Lane, which does require a variance. The proposed fence would be six feet high with 100 percent opacity, which conflicts with the allowed fence parameters of four feet height and 50 percent opacity. As the planner for the project, LUPZ co-chair Larry McEwen presented a revised proposal for a fence that would comply with the zoning terms, but with the fence at the front of the property having full opacity.

There was some debate among the LUPZ members about the opacity levels of the fence, as concern was raised over setting a precedence in the immediate area for more fences with full opacity.

“As a community, we don’t want to have walls between our roads and hide behind opaque fences,” said Joyce Lenhardt, CHCA Vice President of the Physical Division. “We need to stick to our policy.”

After further discussion, the committee voted to conditionally support the revised proposal on the grounds that the front fence stretch for 125 feet to the division between 421 and 423 West Mermaid, as well as the submission of a landscape plan. McEwen said that he would need to discuss the terms with his clients before a potential agreement on their end.

Picking up the discussion from the last CHCA meeting, Richard Snowden presented to the LUPZ on Bowman Properties’ renovation of 8335 Germantown Avenue. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Chestnut Hill Business District are still set to be the property’s tenants, Snowden said, but he is still working on a facade renovation to prepare for the new tenants to operate in the building. With the CHCA having already given the Development Review Committee authority to decide on the proposal on their behalf, the LUPZ voted to support the project ahead of Bowman’s zoning hearing on September 26.

Wrapping up the meeting, Linda Brown, a representative of Chestnut Hill Towers, sought the committee’s advice on how to fix a proposed banner that the Towers had sought to place on its building at 400 East Mermaid Lane. With the idea proving to be unpopular, Brown hoped to gain ideas from LUPZ members on a better way to advertise. As the building is fixated on a busy street corner, one suggestion was to put up a sign on the corner along with landscaping to make it look attractive. Though there is a separate banner up on the corner already, the committee felt that this could be an opportunity to do “something nice” at that location.

The next LUPZ meeting is set for October 4 at 8 p.m. at the Chestnut Hill Hospital. Brendan Sample can be reached at brendan@chestnuthilllocal.com

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