Chestnut Hill land use committee tables further action on Bowman plan until next week

A usual meeting of the Land Use, Planning and Zoning (LUPZ) committee of the Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA) normally has a handful of attendees, but on Thursday evening, the main conference room at Chestnut Hill Hospital was filled with more than 50 people.

The crowd came out to hear and voice their views about the latest particulars on the Bowman Properties plans for the development of the former Magarity site at 8200 Germantown Avenue. 

They heard about the project and they spoke, but the LUPZ decided to take no action at the meeting in order to give the subcommittee dealing with the project a few more days to review current data and particulars.

The previous day, a meeting between developers and the subcommittee had stretched into the late evening as they discussed changes to the plans. Those changes were incorporated into a document given to the subcommittee, but with less than 24 hours to review it, subcommittee member Joyce Lenhart said there was still much more material that needed to be studied. Her view was echoed by others on the committee.

Thus, LUPZ chair John Landis offered a motion to table any further action until a special meeting of the LUPZ next week, at which time, he said, “the subcommittee will make a recommendation to the LUPZ.” The LUPZ would then, in turn, make its recommendation to the Development Review Committee at that committee’s meeting, which would immediately follow.

The $30 million plan for 8200 Germantown Avenue involves a mix of uses, with 5,000-square feet of retail space along Germantown Avenue, a 20,000 square foot space for a Fresh Market behind that, condominiums atop both of those spaces, and townhomes facing Shawnee Street behind the main building. The revised plan presented at the meeting by developer Richard Snowden of Bowman Properties and his associates incorporated a number of changes to the original.

A major source of contention has been the impact, visual and otherwise, that a multi-story structure would have on the site and its surroundings.

Proposed reduction in height and number of townhomes

Originally the plans called for a six-story building. That has been reduced to five stories in the current plan. Snowden said, “There has been a real effort to lower the height of the building and now it’s about the same height as the Chestnut Hill Hotel.” Project architect Richard Gelber said that the height had been reduced to 58 feet from 63, and that the setback of the top fifth floor would minimize the visual impact of the building from across the street. Committee member Larry McEwen questioned Gelber at length about that and appeared to have doubts as to whether the upper floor setback would accomplish what Gelber said.

Another change was a reduction in the number of townhomes and condominiums proposed for the frontage on Shawnee Street. Originally, nine homes were planned for in a solid block stretching along Shawnee. The current plans call for eight homes in two blocks of four separated by a grassy space. The number of upper-story condominiums originally planned for was 14; that has now been changed to 17, with added parking spaces for them in an underground garage.

The plan would require zoning changes, and first steps in that process took place Tuesday and Wednesday as three bills to that end introduced by Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, including one that would change the direction of traffic on Hartwell Lane, were voted out of committee by City Council. They will likely be voted on by mid-December.

A sense of urgency

When asked what would happen if Council did not act by the end of December, project attorney Matthew McClure said, “If we don’t get [zoning approval] by the end of the year, it will take much longer,” because a new Council will be seated in January and the process would essentially have to begin all over.

As for the community association, Landis said, “The CHCA has indicated that it wants to take up the issue by the end of the year. That doesn’t mean that it will go forward. But we’re trying to make the things that we’re talking about tonight all part of the package.”

There was little or no negative reaction from the audience as to what they heard about the plans, though there were many questions about specific aspects. There was considerable applause to the remarks of one speaker who praised the idea of a mixed-use residential and commercial building that would bring both shoppers and more residents to the area.

The next meeting of the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee will be Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 6:30 p.m., in the Main Level Conference Room at Chestnut Hill Hospital, 8835 Germantown avenue. It will be followed at 7:30 p.m. by the meeting of the Development Review Committee. The December meeting of the CHCA’s Board of Directors will take place Monday, Dec. 12, 7 p.m., at the hospital.

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