Neighborhood association endorses large grocery store/condo project for Chestnut Hill

The Chestnut Hill Community Association board voted emphatically in favor of developer Richard Snowden’s mixed-use project for 8200 Germantown Ave. Monday night, capping more than nine months of negotiations and setting the stage for a City Council vote.

The unanimous tally of 23 members of the CHCA’s board of directors approved a five-point resolution supporting Bowman Properties’ commercial and residential complex at the former Magarity Ford site, contingent upon the terms of a community development agreement.

The two sides have agreed to the terms of a draft agreement, which will be the basis of a legal agreement that Snowden, Bowman’s managing partner, said he will sign.

“And we’ll be hunted down like dogs if we don’t sign,” joked Snowden, a prominent businessman who owns dozens of properties in the neighborhood.

But his comment hit close to the heart of why many CHCA board members said they ultimately supported the plan: Unlike the out-of-town corporate landlords that hold some key properties in Chestnut Hill, Snowden lives and works in the neighborhood and is building his own house nearby.

“I’m putting my trust in Richard and his organization to do the right thing,” board member Tom Hemphill said.olas

On Tuesday, the city Planning Commission will likely vote on the plan, sending their advice to City Council. Thursday, Council will consider three bills sponsored by outgoing Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller that would clear the way for the development.

Given the months of back-and-forth and a generous amount of attention the proposal has received — even the Philadelphia Inquirer weighed in with an editorial denouncing Miller’s move to change zoning laws — the vote went off quickly and without drama. From the beginning, many in Chestnut Hill had said they welcomed a new use on the site, but decried it as too tall and with too many things packed into the two-acre parcel.

Along Germantown Avenue, the plan would see retail spaces at street level with 17 condos in four stories above. At the rear of the site, along Shawnee Street, eight townhouses would front Pastorious Park. In between, along Hartwell Lane and facing inward toward an 85-space parking lot, will sit a 20,000 square foot grocery store, The Fresh Market.

“What Germantown Avenue is missing on a larger scale is home ownership,” Snowden said. “This has been a street of rental properties for many years, and we need to get owners back.”

Overall height was a concern for some near neighbors and many who signed a petition against the proposal. The multi-story building along Germantown Avenue will stand nearly 60 feet high, but with terraced fourth and fifth floors stepped back from the street — the top floor by 24 feet. Also, as a result of negotiations with a committee of CHCA board members and neighbors, the market building along Hartwell Lane will sit back three feet from the property line.

From the start, aside from concerns about density and overall scale of the project, major concerns arose around the method Bowman was using to gain approval for the plan. Rather than seek a series of zoning variances needed because the parcel currently has two designations with dividing line that doesn’t match the footprint of the Bowman plan, the developer — at the city’s direction, they have said — sought a legislative remedy.

Miller’s bills would:

* Re-map the 8200 Germantown Ave. site from its current C7 commercial and R5 residential, to C2 and R10b;

* Alter the current zoning overlay governing development along Chestnut Hill’s commercial corridor to allow for mixed-use projects on Germantown Avenue;

* Reverse the direction of traffic on Hartwell Lane to bring vehicles out of the Fresh Market lot and back to Germantown Avenue. Under the community agreement, that change wouldn’t take place until construction was well underway.

“You have a situation where you can’t do anything with this property [under the current zoning],” said Matt McClure, the project attorney. “The zoning board is for nips and tucks, not for large-scale relief.”

While there was still some call from some who had opposed the plan to take a formal poll of the 22 adjacent residential properties, many who spoke said they felt the process had been inclusive and everyone who wanted to be heard, was heard — often more than once.

Joyce Lenhardt, a CHCA board member who sat on the eight-person sub-committee that included three near neighbors, said she retained concerns about the magnitude of the project but felt the process had worked.

“We feel that the project is better as a result of the process,” she said.

Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.