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Developer, residents discuss a dollar-store project not called Chelten Plaza

A handful of community members met last week with a developer who plans to bring a Dollar General store to the 600 block of E. Chelten Ave. in East Germantown.

The Oct. 18 event – cohosted at First Presbyterian Church by Germantown Community Connection (GCC) and Chew and Belfield Neighbors – brought residents together at a time of ongoing angst over the Chelten Plaza project about a mile down the street.

“If you’re a developer and want to come into Germantown, contact the community,” said Betty Turner, GCC president.

That’s exactly what developer Mark Nicoletti did last Tuesday, handing out plans for a project which he says is more than a dollar store.

“This is your neighborhood,” he said, noting that Dollar General is a national company and sells quality goods. (Click this link for a PDF of the architectural drawing of the project.)

When asked about other options to what some neighbors called a saturated dollar-store market, Nicoletti stated the privately funded project “is doable idea in an awful economy.”

Rev. Chester H. Williams, president of the Chew and Belfield Neighbors Club, said most of his partner organizations didn’t believe it was a new dollar store along Chelten Avenue, but was part of the Chelten Plaza project.

“Everyone told me I was wrong, and it was West Chelten [Avenue]. It’s going to be on our front door,” he said.

Turner said she met Nicoletti after the Sept. 28 Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing about Chelten Plaza. Nicoletti asked for a continuance for his separate hearing when he learned the community didn’t feel like they were consulted.

Nicoletti’s father Robert owns Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation, which controls more than 80 properties in North Philadelphia, Kensington, West Philadelphia, South Philadelphia and Germantown.

PSDC renovated the old Asher’s candy factory at the corner of Chelten and Germantown avenues. While there’s now a Walgreens – and Nicoletti expressed pride in having redeveloped the intersection – there was an proposed plan in 2000 for a 125-bed transitional-housing facility for former inmates and low-income housing. Neighborhood groups shut the project down, saying the area was saturated with halfway institutions.

Turner said last week’s meeting enabled GCC to hand off the project to the Chew-Chelten Avenue Business Association (CCABA), a coalition of 29 local companies along the commercial corridor.

CCABA President Joan Hill says it was “unbelievable” that the development got so far without being on her radar but was happy to meet with Nicoletti to discuss and improve the project plans submitted that night.

“This development is going to be an extremely positive impact in the community,” she said, noting that the long-abandoned lot has been a dumping ground and eyesore in the years since a locally owned variety store closed there.

The rescheduled ZBA hearing, at which the developer seeks a parking variance outside the 9,100 square foot development, will be held this Wednesday.

Williams noted that the 29-car parking lot facing the street might be excessive considering most of the neighborhood will walk to the store. Others wanted to see more green spaces included in the plan or more windows on the building itself.

West Central Germantown Neighbors President Luke Russell asked the developer to reconsider the dollar-store plan and build anything else.

“When you drive down Chelten Avenue at night it looks like wartorn Beirut,” he said, also citing Germantown’s saturation of variety stores.

Nicoletti expects that the store, on which construction would begin after the zoning hearing, will open next spring.

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