by Brendan Sample
Although the review process was initially set to conclude this month, neighbors of 250 E. Evergreen Ave. will now have an extra month to discuss the details of a new house that is planned for an empty lot on the property.
The construction has been a strong point of contention among community members over the past month, but the delay will now give both residents and members of the Chestnut Hill Community Association time to establish a subcommittee that will attempt to work out some of the finer details of the plan. The applicants will still have time to further discuss the issue before they go before the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment on Wednesday, Oct. 16.
The decision was made at the Aug. 20 meeting of the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee, which passed a motion after hearing input from other community organizations and individual neighbors. During the review process, the DRC typically weighs input from the Land Use, Planning and Zoning committee, the Chestnut Hill Conservancy’s Historic District Advisory Committee and the CHCA’s Streetscape committee.
While the LUPZ was willing to support the project on certain conditions, the HDAC could not support the variance request due to issues with the lot size and the effect the new property would have on neighboring properties that are on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. (Streetscape did not provide any direct input because the property is not on Germantown Avenue.)
Though the property owners, Janet and Matt Stern, were unable to attend, about 20 residents showed up to discuss the issue further after the previous week’s LUPZ meeting. Further questions were raised regarding effects on parking, the height of the house, potential damage to trees, the amount of room between structures and construction logistics. In regards to the latter, some neighbors are concerned that trucks and other construction vehicles could end up blocking their access to Evergreen Avenue. While the applicants are not far enough in the planning process to know about those specific details, the DRC did suggest a possible proviso that would necessitate offsite parking for workers.
Lori Salganicoff, executive director of the conservancy, also brought up concerns about the potential precedent that could be established by supporting the variance for the plans as they stood at the time. She, along with other residents, referenced how the Sterns consolidated the lot after they bought the property in 2012, which several people now feel was a mistake.
“If this community allows for things to sort of be shifted around because someone made a mistake six years ago, where does the next property get judged and how?” Salganicoff said. “There is an important question of precedence here, and an important question to be answered of how a variance gets granted.”
Richard Snowden, managing partner of Bowman Properties and a member of the CHCA board of directors, was the first to bring up the idea of delaying the review process through September. Though he called the updated building design “very attractive,” he felt that everyone involved needed more time to discuss some of the finer details of the project. He expressed reluctance that the CHCA would approve the project in its current state, a sentiment that board president Laura Lucas, who was also in attendance, also expressed.
“Right now, this baby’s not baked enough to ask the board,” Snowden said. “A small working group with neighbors, people from this committee and the conservancy would work out. … This is gonna be dead on arrival on Thursday[‘s CHCA board meeting] because there are too many questions here. The community association does not need to take into consideration the professional recommendations of these committees. They are here to also listen to neighbors, and I think you would have a much higher chance of getting this thing passed if there was some sort of a working group.”
The motion specified not only delaying the review process but also that a formal subcommittee be formed to address specific issues that have been consistently raised. The specific members will be determined at a later date, and some of the issues that will be discussed include parking, trees, back lots and construction logistics. The subcommittee will meet separately before the September DRC meeting, and the issue will not be referred back to the LUPZ or HDAC.
Before the Evergreen Avenue property was discussed, the first agenda item for the DRC was a final discussion regarding a new location for an açaí bowl and smoothie takeout restaurant – Bahia Bowls. The restaurant is proposed for 8136 Germantown Ave., and the applicants are seeking a variance to rezone the property for commercial use. Aside from restoring the original facade, they will also not be making any major changes to the building. With provisos already in place to ensure regular upkeep, the committee moved to conditionally support the variance request, with the CHCA voting similarly two days later.
The next DRC meeting is set for Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Chestnut Hill Hospital. Brendan Sample can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-248-8819.