Council committee likely to vote on Germantown variety-store overlay amendment today

More than 20 Germantown community residents testified during a heated City Council Rules Committee hearing Tuesday morning, and nearly all of them lobbied against outgoing Eighth District Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller’s zoning overlay amendment regarding variety stores.

That amendment would change an existing overlay that prohibits variety stores in Germantown by allowing shops of over 7,500 square feet to open. This ties into the Chelten Plaza debate in that opponents have used the existing overlay as a legal argument to stop the project.

Organizers say the amendment would take away their leverage for negotiations with developer and chances of stopping the $4 million of state grant money currently on hold. Yvonne Haskins, the lawyer representing community organizations, said she worried that — out of tradition and councilmanic prerogative — councilmembers don’t vote against their peers’s proposals.

“I’m hoping that’s not true in this case,” she said, addressing the council.

Testimony continued and debate ensued for nearly two hours, at which point the committee decided to postpone its vote until today’s regularly scheduled committee session.

Council members wanted Chelten Plaza developer Patrick Burns, of Pulaski Partners, to provide his “Economic Opportunity Plan,” which shows diversity in business opportunities for projects across the city.

That plan would provide numbers of minority owned businesses used, job-creation projections and economic impact for the immediate neighborhood. Councilman Wilson Goode said he wanted to ensure that the neighborhood benefits from a project with any public-funding support.

Carl Primavera, attorney for the developer, testified that documentation would be provided today. As a marker for diversity in the project, Primavera highlighted Wired Beans Café – an African American owned business which recently signed a lease to open at the site – but Goode says it wasn’t good enough.

“You can’t talk your way out of this,” Goode said.

During the hearing, and in an element touching on community-group friction about the project, developers said they invited residents to a meeting but that their invitation was declined.

“We invited people to be a part of that dialogue, they chose not to,” Primavera said.

As a result, he said developers were forced to deal with the Germantown Community Connection instead, yet three GCC members – Irv Ackelsberg, Megan Fitzpatrick and Christopher Mendel – testified that Primavera’s comments were wildly off the mark.

The hearing will resume at 11 a.m. in City Hall. The bill and, by proxy, the Chelten Plaza project hang in the balance.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Help us get to 100% of our membership goal to support the reporters covering our region, the producers bringing you great local programs and the educators who teach all our children.