A Chestnut Hill advisory committee opposes current plan for 8200 Germantown Ave.

An ad-hoc committee in Chestnut Hill is currently opposed to the design of a planned grocery store complex along Germantown Avenue.

“At this point we don’t approve of the project,” said Joyce Lenhardt, co-chair of the subcommittee, during a Thursday night meeting.

The committee wants the overall size of the project to be smaller. It also wants more space between Germantown Avenue and the building, and it also wants more space between nearby homes and the development.

The Chestnut Hill Community Association set up the nine-member committee in July to work with the project’s developer, Bowman Properties, to identify and workout any problems with the design.

 

What Bowman wants

Bowman Properties would like to build a five-story building facing Germantown Avenue that would host 6,000 square-feet of street-level retail and 14 luxury condominiums directly above.

Behind that structure would sit a 20,000 square-foot grocery store, The Fresh Market. The development would also include a row of nine luxury townhomes along nearby Shawnee Street.

 

What the committee wants

The committee, which will later make its formal recommendation to the CHCA’s Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee, has presented nearly 20 conditions to Bowman officials with mixed results.

The subcommittee has asked Bowman Properties, including its President Richard Snowden, to only build a four-story mixed-use building on Germantown Avenue.

Snowden, a board member of the CHCA, has said in the past that he’s unwilling to chop a floor off the design.

“They’re [Bowman Properties reps] pretty firm [on that],” said Lenhardt.

Bowman Properties has also been slow to budge on the design of the planned townhomes along the 8200 block of Shawnee Street. As planned, those homes would be part of one big building. Each would have a parking garage beneath it.

The subcommittee would like the properties to be divided into two separate buildings and for the homes to be setback from the street. Bowman has agreed to do a survey of that part of the site.

“It’s not anything we have elsewhere in Chestnut Hill,” said Lenhardt.

Bowman Properties has agreed to look into landscaping and, to that end, is scheduled this week to present a landscaping plan to the community. The subcommittee doesn’t want to lose any current street trees and would like 10 percent of the site’s 85-space parking lot to be designated as a planting area.

Bowman Properties has also agreed to create and sign a Community Development Agreement (CDA). That document would contain agreements concerning a number of smaller items, including lighting, hours of operation and trash pickup, among other things.

 

Stalemate?

In an earlier interview, Lee Foulkrod, one of three nearby neighbors on the subcommittee, said negotiations have stalled and that the two groups are at “a stalemate at this point.”

The West Southampton Avenue resident used the subcommittee’s request for fewer floors as an example of the impasse.

“You might say it’s still under negotiation, but he’s publicly stated that there will be no reduction,” said Foulkrod. “That discourages me a little bit. It doesn’t leave any room for some of the points we’ve been discussing with [Snowden].”

Foulkrod said the group has only made progress on what he called “fairly minor issues” and not on the points that matter most to neighbors.

 

Neighbors watching closely

Fellow Southampton Avenue resident Terry Halbert, a non-subcommittee member, said Bowman has effectively “stonewalled” the community’s requests. If negotiations continue at their current clip, a group of neighbors may take legal action, she said.

Halbert says they have hired a lawyer to advise them on their options. They are similarly concerned about the size of the building and its close proximity to residents, whose homes surround the development on three sides.

Seth Shapiro, project manager with Bowman properties, said the company is in the midst of “very productive” negotiations.

“We’re not at a stalemate,” said Shapiro, who also heads the neighborhood’s business improvement district.

“We have not yet set in set in stone any plan to be submitted,” said Shapiro. “There is always room for things to be altered until we have permits.”

 

Bowman needs zoning changed

As Bowman seeks to win support from the Chestnut Hill Community Association, it is also taking another matter directly before the Philadelphia City Council.

Eighth District City Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller is expected this week to introduce an ordinance that would “up-zone” parts of the property from C7 to C3. That permanent change is needed for some of the projects commercial uses.

The property is the former site of an auto dealership that closed in November 2008.

Lenhardt said the subcommittee would like to strike a balance between having no zoning changes at the two acre site and what Bowman wants. Details of that discussion were not made public.

Either way, Snowden with Bowman Properties has agreed in word and letter that the ordinance will not go to a vote until community negotiations are complete.

Some residents worried that if Council approved the zoning, it would effectively make the CHCA’s recommendation to the Zoning Board of Adjustments meaningless.

Still there is some concern among community members that Bowman will proceed with the Council bill before that process is complete. Miller, an incumbent, is set to retire. A new Councilperson will take office in January. Even though Councilwoman Miller plans to introduce the zoning request this week, the final vote can be scheduled after the CHCA makes its recommendations.

Shapiro said negotiations will continue for as long as they are needed. “We’re going to keep having meetings as long as they are productive.”

 

Still a lot to discuss

John Landis, who co-chairs LUPZ and is a member of the subcommittee, thinks the community process could take awhile. During Thursday’s meeting, Landis boiled down the negotiations to two fronts.

“First that the near neighbors whose lives are affected by this, that those impacts are mitigated for them so they don’t have to suffer,” said Landis near the end of the meeting,

“And secondly, to the extent that there’s a financial benefit for the developer, that that benefit be shared with the community in some way through the creation of landscaping, through the creation of amenities, through the creation of public space,” he said.

The LUPZ subcommittee is scheduled to make their recommendation to the full committee Nov. 3. The LUPZ will then make a recommendation to the Development Review Committee. The Development Review Committee will then make a recommendation to the full board of the Chestnut Hill Community Association.

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