Rezoning bills introduced for Bowman’s Magarity project

Time could be running out for the Chestnut Hill Community Association to have a meaningful say in the major development proposed for old Magarity dealership site at 8200 Germantown Ave.

While the CHCA’s various committees continue to seek changes to the mixed-use plan for the empty site at Germantown and Hartwell Lane, a package of bills now before City Council could green-light the project without their official endorsement. 

Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller introduced a trio of bills that would side-step the CHCA’s community approval process by changing the property’s zoning and amending the overlay for that part of Germantown Avenue. With those measures in place, developer Richard Snowden’s Bowman Properties could proceed with plans for a Fresh Market grocery store, a mixed-use building along the avenue with first-floor retail and several floors of condos above, and a row of townhouses along Shawnee Street.

The three bills, introduced Oct. 27 and now on their way to various Council committees and the city Planning Commission, would:

* change the zoning on the two parcels that make up the Bowman site, from C7 and R5 (the car dealership and an empty parcel that wraps around it) to a combination of R5, C2 and R10b, to allow for townhouses, retail uses and condos;

* amend the Germantown Avenue Special District Controls, the zoning overlay created in 1995, to specify a need for, and set controls on, residential/commercial mixed-use developments along Germantown Avenue;

* change the direction of Hartwell Lane between Germantown and Shawnee Street from westbound to eastbound, to carry traffic out of the site.

The project may also be on the agenda for the upcoming Nov. 15 meeting of the city Planning Commission, which will review the plan and make a recommendation to Council. Members of the CHCA’s Land Use, Planning and Zoning committee are planning a special meeting for Wednesday or Thursday of next week to review Bowman’s latest proposals in an effort to have some say in the plan.

Today, LUPZ committee member Joyce Lenhardt and members of a subcommittee will meet with Snowden to get details of some changes, made in response to concerns by neighbors and CHCA members. Questions have included overall height, potential traffic impact, the project’s density and massing, and whether it should include amenities for the community.

“They seem to have heard pretty loud and clear that the townhouses were a problem,” she said.

Snowden has indicated there could be several changes to the plan, Lenhardt said, including reducing the number of townhouses from nine to seven or eight, and adding a sixth floor and more condos along Germantown Avenue. Lenhardt said her understanding is that because ceiling heights would be reduced within the condos, the overall building height would change only by about four feet.

Still, it was clear from comments made by committee members at their meeting Thursday night that they feel Snowden is trying to put a “squeeze play” on the locally-based review process by bringing the project before the city, and before full CHCA board, before the next regular LUPZ meeting.

Committee member Ned Mitinger urged passage of a resolution saying the full board wouldn’t take a formal position on the application before the LUPZ experts had a chance to weigh in.

“If the board is going to do this to us, then there’s no point in us existing,” he said.

John Landis advocated a different tack, saying Snowden has “not reacted well to ultimatums” and that the committee shouldn’t take a position until it had a chance to see the latest changes to the plan.

William Nesheiwat, Miller’s legislative director, said the Eighth District Councilwoman offered the bills to get the project moving ahead but with the understanding that Snowden would continue talking with neighbors to make sure the project satisfies everyone.

Nesheiwat was emphatic that the bills were meant to kick-start development in a highly visible space, not to benefit Snowden or his company in particular.

“We need something there, and if it requires some tweaking [of zoning], we may need to do that,” he said. “Snowden has been on both sides of the fight, so he understands the concerns that the neighbors have — he’s one of them.”

Despite several empty storefronts along Germantown Avenue already, he said, a new project would generate interest that could draw new business for the whole commercial district.

“The avenue is slowly dying away, and it’s a domino effect,” Nesheiwat said. “Either we allow the rest to continue to go, or we allow something to come in there and draw some life.”

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.