A ‘yes’ vote for Bottom Dollar Food project, and a look at other Washington Lane plans

A proposal for a new Bottom Dollar Food store near the Washington Lane SEPTA station will go forward to the city zoning board with the endorsement of local civic groups.

The Chew & Belfield Neighbors Club, with representatives of several other local civic and community development groups in attendance, voted Monday night to support the developers’ application for needed zoning variances following a presentation by Bottom Dollar Food representatives.

Neighbors and block captains from Germantown and East Mount Airy asked questions about the store itself, the construction and development plan, potential jobs, security and other community benefits before voting overwhelmingly in favor of developer Richard L. Soloff’s plan.

The 18,000 square foot store, with 62 parking spots, would sit at the corner of Chew Avenue and Washington Lane and have access from both streets.

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Moniker problems

One thing project officials were careful to point out is the importance of the word “food” in the name of the store. Despite its name, Bottom Dollar is a full-service supermarket. Part of the Food Lion chain, it is not a dollar store.

“One of the things we do struggle with is the name,” said Don Ciotti, Bottom Dollar’s director of operations.

The store would carry about 6,000 items including fresh produce, fresh and frozen meats, a full dairy line and general grocery items from both house labels and national brands. Bottom Dollar already has 38 stores in the city and nearby suburbs.

Security addressed

As for police presence, the site will have visits from both sector cars and area bicycle patrols, said 14th District Capt. Joel Dales. Armed private guards will be on duty inside the store at all times, with surveillance cameras also in use, store officials said.

Dales told store officials the new site would sit within a “hot zone” for robberies and assaults, urged them to attend 14th District PSA meetings and strongly suggested store managers keep a log book to be sure officers are making rounds.

Rev. Chester Williams, president of the Chew and Belfield group, told the crowd that neighbors’ eyes and ears were also needed to keep the area safe.

“Don’t look for the police to do everything,” he said. “It takes us to step up to the plate.”

Aesthetics discussed

And there was another concern: Clad in a mix of red brick and a beige stucco facade, the building is nearly windowless, bunker-like.

“It looks unattractive to the community,” said Janet Thompson.

Bottom Dollar representatives said their building design options are limited by the focus on keeping costs low at every level.

“Efficiencies start with the construction of the building,” Ciotti said. Instead of large windows, interior wall spaces are used for merchandising.

The building may be unlovely, but the project would activate a location that is now a dead spot on an otherwise busy intersection. And it is only one of a string of proposals for that stretch of Washington Lane.

Neighborhood development

Just beyond the corner, on two parcels adjacent to the Awbury Arboretum, the Wissahickon Charter School is working with Mt. Airy USA to finalize plans for a new campus, having been granted permission last spring to nearly double its enrollment to almost 900 students.

Anuj Gupta, MAUSA’s executive director, gave a brief update and passed around the latest version of plans for the new school.

Renderings show a two-story school building with attached gym/auditorium, kitchen and cafeteria, along with outdoor classroom areas and an “education trail” passing under the railroad tracks and connecting the school to the arboretum.

Environmental issues at the site, once an oil distribution facility, are satisfied and two financing options are in place, Gupta said.

“So, in the next two or three weeks, we’re going to know one way or another if this project is going forward,” he said.

A few blocks away, at 1196 E. Washington Lane, the Green Tree School recently broke ground on its own new campus. The private school for autistic and special-needs students, founded in 1957, will move from its current home on two nearby facilities to a 2.4-acre site.

The meeting, held at Zion Hill Church of God in Christ, was attended by representatives of many of the neighborhood groups and community organizations, including Germantown Restoration CDC, East Mt. Airy Neighbors, OARC and Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass’s office.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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