by Pete Mazzaccaro
A new development in Chestnut Hill at a prominent location on Germantown Avenue is not living up to expectations. It has not only earned the ire of local residents and civic associations, but has also received several violations from Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections for failing to comply to submitted building plans.
If not remedied, it would constitute a zoning “bait and switch” in which the community would be stuck with a building it never approved of despite the fact that building needed and received community support for not conforming to a number of zoning regulations.
It began in May of 2016 when the Chestnut Hill Community Association voted to support several variance requests by Patriot Real Estate, which had worked for months with various neighborhood groups to revise plans for a set of homes to be built at 2 E. Chestnut Hill Avenue.
Those plans, which included the restoration of the original, historic home that was once used as a dentist’s office and the construction of a twin unit along Germantown Avenue, required the community to agree to a number of concessions on the property’s zoning: a setback that was closer to Germantown Avenue, to allow multi-family residences on the same lot and to change the type of building from residential single family to residential multi-family.
The association and the Chestnut Hill Conservancy were happy to allow the new development to go forward if Patriot complied with numerous requests and revisions for which the community groups had lobbied. At the time of the approval, it appeared the community would get what it expected.
“The community supported the variance requests based on a finely wrought process,” said Lori Salganicoff, executive director of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy, an organization that was very much involved in negotiating the final plans that the CHCA would approve.
But last week, it became clear that the building going up next to the historic home on 2 E. Chestnut Hill Ave. was very different from what the community had agreed to.
“What is being built is nothing like what the community agreed to,” said Anne McNiff, executive director of the Chestnut Hill Community Association.
While the footprint of the new construction appears to be the same, the building materials on the home are a far cry from the stucco and schist face the community approved. In their place is a building covered almost entirely in white vinyl siding, a material you’d be hard pressed to find along Germantown Avenue’s historic run through Chestnut Hill.
On Friday, Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving, a property inspection of 2 E. Chestnut Hill Ave. by Licenses and Inspections produced four violations and a failing grade. Main Street was cited for four violations pertaining to both the use of unapproved materials and for tearing down two heritage trees it needed permits in order to remove.
At the center of the development is the new owner, Main Street Properties, which also developed 30 W. Chestnut Hill Ave. and a pair of homes on the 8000 block of Ardleigh Street. Main Street purchased the 2 E. Chestnut Hill for $1.05 million in May this year.
Main Street president Glenn Falso said he wasn’t aware of the details of the specific violations, but promised the home would look great when finished. He also said he was sure he could work through any differences with the community.
“It looks raw now. But I believe that it will be a feather in Chestnut Hill’s cap when all is finished in the spring,” he said in an email.
He said he was compelled to remove the trees he had because they were in bad shape. He said he is re-landscaping the entire property with the consultation of a landscape architect.
The failure of the inspection may be to the advantage of the community groups, as it will likely force Main Street to do one of two things, according to Licenses and Inspections supervisor John Doherty. Doherty said Main Street would either need to tear down the materials it has already put up and replace them with those approved in their building plans, or apply for an amended permit, which would trigger another set of zoning meetings with the community.
Salganicoff and McNiff said they expect Main Street to comply with the original agreement and use the stone and stucco facing to which they had agreed.
“We had community meetings for a reason,” Salganicoff said. “Our expectation is that the developer will follow through.”
McNiff agreed and said the CHCA was prepared to press Main Street for that compliance.
“How [Main Street] chooses to respond to this will determine how we proceed,” McNiff said. “But we want to be sure that developers know that when they don’t comply with agreements made here, that we’re prepared to take steps to remedy that.”
Pete Mazzaccaro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215- 248-8802.