Concerns raised over Bowman Properties’ zoning tactic on 8200 Germantown Ave. plan

 

Among the issues emerging surrounding a Bowman Properties’ plan for the former Magarity Ford dealership site is a fundamental question of process.

As the proposal for a mixed-use development with The Fresh Market grocery store, condos and townhouses winds its way through the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s various committees, some are asking why the developer plans to seek city approval through City Council legislation, rather than the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Project might bypass Zoning Board of Adjustment review

Bowman’s project team for the 8200 Germantown Ave. site appeared at Thursday night’s meeting of the CHCA’s Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee. A key point of discussion among committee members and about 50 neighbors was why Bowman intended to seek a zoning remapping that would change the two parcels comprising the site from the current R5 and C7, to R10b and C3.

 

Why does that matter?

In the usual process, where applicants seek ZBA variances to create projects that do not exactly fit with allowable uses or conform to site controls, the formal support of official local civic groups is required. With a City Council bill, the public still has input but the process is much more direct, depending mostly on council prerogative.

“It seems to me that the strategy is to circumvent that whole [zoning process] and go to City Council,” making the CHCA committee meetings “a sham,” said Ben Brown, who lives on Southampton Avenue.

 

It was the city’s idea

Bowman officials said the staff of the City Planning Commission actually advised them to seek the legislative solution, in part because of the number of variances that would be needed.

“We’re going the route that was recommended to us,” said attorney Matthew N. McClure.

 

What will be built

Other topics under discussion with the LUPZ committee included the overall size and design of the 20,000 square-foot grocery store, which will have 14 condominium units attatched and take up much of the block of Hartwell Lane. At the rear of the site, fronting Shawnee Street, would be a row of nine townhouses, specific designs for which have not yet been released.

 

Neighbors’ concerns

Tom Beck, an architect who lives on Shawnee Street, said the entire project feels out of context with the area around it. Specifically, he questioned why Bowman showed seemingly incomparable homes to suggest possible designs for the townhouses.

“The examples that were shown were twin houses, not a row of nine houses,” he said.

Ironically, at least three Chestnut Hill residents who are also architects were in the audience at Thursday night’s meeting. They all voiced concerns about density and overall height of the condo building, with one calling it “massive” and another saying the site felt “packed out,” with 6,500 square feet of retail shops at street level and an overall height of five stories along Germantown Avenue.

 

The Traffic Study

Next up for the Bowman proposal: An appearance by the project team before the CHCA’s Traffic and Transit Committee to present a much-anticipated traffic study. That meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, July 11, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 22 E. Chestnut Hill Ave.

So far, questions about traffic have centered on the potential number of trips in and out of the site, which will have an 85-spot parking lot and require a new traffic light at Hartwell Lane and Germantown Avenue. Also, residents of Hartwell are concerned about the possible reversal of traffic flow on the block between Germantown and Shawnee.

Project officials have said in previous meetings that The Fresh Market expects one tractor-trailer delivery and several box-truck visits each day, but have so far hedged on specific numbers related to how many visits the site would draw each day.

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.