by Brendan Sample
While no official motion was passed, residents of East Evergreen Avenue and surrounding properties were able to have an open discussion regarding the controversial plan to build a new house on 250 E. Evergreen Ave.
With approximately 30 residents in attendance, the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee facilitated discussion on the issue at its Aug. 15 meeting, as it continues to collect feedback from the community.
Janet and Matt Stern, who have owned the property encompassing 248 and 250 E. Evergreen Ave. since 2012, want to build a residential structure on the empty lot at 250 as a way to further capitalize on their investment. They have a by-right ability to add onto the house at 248, but decided that doing so would not be in the best interest of the neighborhood.
The lot that the Sterns own had previously been subdivided into three properties: 248 E. Evergreen Ave., 250 E. Evergreen Ave. and 8418 Anderson St. It was consolidated in 2013, but the applicants are looking to subdivide it into two properties this time, including the lot on Anderson.
There has been considerable backlash to the project, however, with neighbors accusing the Sterns of keeping them in the dark about the proposal for too long. It is standard zoning procedure to send out notices to nearby residents after the initial application is sent in, as nearly every submission is met with a formal refusal that triggers the review process. A number of community members argued that they should have heard about this directly from the Sterns first, instead of from other neighbors or the Local, for example.
“We’ve been totally transparent from the get-go,” Matt said, to which a neighbor responded, “That’s not true at all.”
Additionally, residents also raised concerns over parking issues, a potential lack of space between houses, the visual impact on the neighborhood, losing green space and how the new property could block off sunlight on Evergreen Avenue. The latter was a significant argument made by attorney Joshua Horvitz, who was at the meeting to represent Ittai Marom, the property owner of 252 E. Evergreen Ave.
Though Marom currently lives in Israel, he anticipates moving back to Chestnut Hill at some point and is concerned that shadows from a new house would put his in the dark for much of the day. Larry McEwen, lead architect for the project, did present images from a study the applicants conducted regarding the effect the new house would have on sunlight. He ultimately argued that the shadows created would not be as disruptive to the community as Horvitz claimed they would be for his client.
“There’s clearly a profit motive here,” Horvitz argued. “But it will have a severe impact on this neighbor. This is the kind of project where if you allow this, it will turn into something like Northern Liberties or Fishtown where they’re building on all the open green spaces on every last corner. So I just urge all of you to consider the door you’re opening when you allow something like this.”
Local zoning and land use attorney Carl Primavera, who is advising the Sterns, was also at the meeting to address concerns. He referred to applications that match up with the city’s zoning code exactly as “the anomaly” to reassure neighbors that this application could not have been submitted and approved without their knowledge. He also assured the crowd that losing this patch of green space would not compromise Chestnut Hill’s Garden District status.
“Even though the gap provides green space, it’s not strategic green space, like a park or an elegant estate that always had a huge amount of land,” Primavera said. “Even though it may be nice, it’s not what planners, designers and zoning people think is appropriate.”
Further concerns were brought up again regarding McEwen’s involvement in the project, as he is also a regular LUPZ member but cannot vote on motions regarding this or any other project on which he is directly involved. Some neighbors felt that this still represents a conflict of interest and that McEwen should be prevented from seeking variance support from a group to which he normally belongs.
“I don’t get why someone who’s on the committee can propose a variance,” said one neighbor in attendance. “That doesn’t seem right to me. … Whatever purpose you serve, I don’t think it’s well-served by allowing people to come to you who are part of the committee.”
Several committee members responded to this complaint directly: John Landis pointed out that the LUPZ does not actually grant variances, Celeste Hardester noted that there are not many design professionals in Chestnut Hill who are not part of the local zoning review process in some capacity and Joyce Lenhardt argued that the group had not been giving McEwen any leeway just because he is on the committee.
“We were holding Larry to a higher standard or as high a standard as we would any other applicant, because we don’t play favorites,” Lenhardt said.
After further discussion at the Development Review Committee meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 20, the CHCA will potentially be voting on a final approval of the project at its board of directors meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 22.
UPDATE: After hearing more community input on the project at its Aug. 20 meeting, the DRC passed a motion to support delaying the review process through September. With the applicants’ hearing before the Zoning Board of Adjustment not scheduled until Oct. 16, this will give the DRC and CHCA time to establish a subcommittee to work out some of the finer details of the plan. A full recap of the meeting will be in next week’s Local. The original story follows:
Bahia Bowls takeout application for 8136 Germantown Ave.
Aside from the East Evergreen discussion, the LUPZ heard from another applicant, Boris Karel, who is planning to open a new location for Bahia Bowls, an açaí bowl and smoothie takeout restaurant, on 8136 Germantown Ave. Karel is hoping to become a franchise owner for Bahia, which is based in Florida but currently planning to expand to Texas and the Virginia/Washington, D.C., area in addition to Chestnut Hill.
The property had previously been zoned for commercial use, but has reverted to residential use in the years that it has been unoccupied, and so Karel is seeking a variance to change it back to commercial. He has also reached out to near neighbors about the project and had not heard any direct responses at the time of the meeting.
The LUPZ members ultimately passed a motion to support the variance with several conditions attached. To keep the committee’s support, Karel will need to commit to keeping the immediate outer area of the restaurant clean, staying open no later than 10 p.m., not installing a takeout window, keeping the restrooms in place, providing the committee with a full menu, allowing the Streetscape Committee to review the plans and ensuring that the building is only used as a takeout restaurant.
The next LUPZ meeting is set for 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, at the Chestnut Hill Hospital. Brendan Sample can be reached at email@example.com or 215- 248-8819.