Letters: Germantown Avenue Vacancies

Posted 11/18/21

A recent Local Article suggests a solution to the vacancy issue on Germantown Avenue in lower Chestnut Hill. In the article John Landis suggests that allowing greater flexibility in converting …

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Letters: Germantown Avenue Vacancies

Posted

A recent Local Article suggests a solution to the vacancy issue on Germantown Avenue in lower Chestnut Hill. In the article John Landis suggests that allowing greater flexibility in converting commercial storefronts to residential use will help solve the vacancy problem.

First, let us express our appreciation for John’s hard and often thankless work as co-chair of the DRC.  His volunteer time and effort should be applauded by all. However, we couldn’t disagree more with lowering the bar for residential conversion of commercial storefronts.  A group of us (business owners, property owners and real estate professionals) walked the Avenue with John and there was total unanimity amongst us against the idea. 

Yes, the pandemic has had a temporary negative impact on commercial rentals everywhere.  But the vacancies we encountered existed long before COVID.  These vacancies, some of which have been vacant for years, are mostly neglected and in poor condition ….. with rents too high for the marketplace.  Perhaps we’re a small sample size, but our storefronts are all occupied and, notwithstanding the pandemic, have remained so…..sometimes with needed concessions to help tenants get through the rough times. 

The reality is, landlords that allow their properties to sit vacant and in disrepair are the biggest factor impacting the lower hill. Rather than lowering the bar to make it easier to convert to residential, let’s hold these landlords to a higher standard….maintaining properties and filling vacancies.

Lower Chestnut Hill is an attractive and eclectic mix of commercial and residential properties.  Parking is easier and there are many stable and well established businesses.  Converting existing commercial spaces not only hurts commercial values, but also cuts into the critical mass of businesses needed to reinforce shoppers coming south.

If somebody wants to convert to residential, they should go through the normal process of obtaining a variance.  Lowering the bar to only needing a special exception, whereby you just have to prove things like traffic and parking, is simply too easy.  If a conversion is reasonable and appropriate, a variance will be granted.  And, in limited cases, our group would support those requests. 

We say, fix up the spaces, ask reasonable rents and fill your vacancies.  South Chestnut Hill deserves that respect.

So thanks……. But no thanks.

Bob Elfant, Elfant Pontz Properties
Paul Walsh, president Elfant Wissahickon Realtors
Cynthia Filmore, owner Windfall Gallery
Barb J. Baumbach, president George Woodward Co.
Kathie Meadows, property manager George Woodward Co.

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  • lfoulkrod

    It does seem like the lower hill has never had the 'critical mass' needed for a successful commercial district. So, yeah, this is throwing in the towel.

    One note, 'parking is easier' probably because of the vacancies.

    But I am little confused. The Chestnut Hill Planning and Development Group is controlled by the Business Association, but the Business Association (CHBA) doesn't have a 'stance' on this. They made a proposal which John Landis brought to the CHCA (DRC) for discussion.

    I count at least 4 business groups in Chestnut Hill; CHBA, BID, Parking Foundation, and the Chestnut Hill Planning and Development Group. Are they not aligned on this ? And now CHCA is running with it ? The business groups can't get together on vacancies ? So the CHCA steps in ?

    Friday, November 19 Report this