Less than 48 hours before the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) was set to settle the Chelten Plaza score, the highly-anticipated plans took an unexpected turn.
There won’t be a hearing. “[The continuance] was granted,” said Maura Kennedy, spokeswoman for Licenses and Inspections, for whom the appeal is targeted for an over-the counter zoning permit.
The reason as to why changes depending on who you ask.
Carl Primavera, attorney for the site’s developers, confirmed that he filed a motion for continuance before the 1 p.m. Wednesday hearing, for which protestors planned to take buses from Germantown to Center City.
“We think that one hour is not enough time for the hearing, so we would rather schedule a hearing when the ZBA has a few hours to hear the case,” Primavera explained via email Tuesday morning. “Also, we think that there is a legislative approach which will save everyone time and money and avoid any confusion by carving the site out of the overlay district.”
Conflicting reasons for continuance
Zoning Board of Adjustment Chair Lynette Brown-Sow said that is not the reason she was told for the continuance request. She said the motion was to “set up a meeting with the community” so that they could resolve the issue internally, so she approved the continuance.
“We did get a letter from the community saying they’ve had enough meetings,” Brown-Sow said recently. She added that the hearing will be postponed until this new meeting proposed by Primavera takes place.
Then, after this new meeting, which was not mentioned in the letter Primavera sent the Zoning Board on Monday, the ZBA said it will continue the case.
Still, Brown-Sow said the case is still eligible to be heard and that there have been ZBA decisions about projects even after buildings are completed.
“We make decisions based on the merits of the case,” she said.
Opponents say Primavera ‘missed the boat’
Organizers against Chelten Plaza, who have been protesting outside of the development for months, said they planned to fill a bus of protestors to flood the hearing.
At issue is what will be built on the site of the former Fresh Grocer at Chelten and Pulaski avenues. The developers, Pulaski Partners, plan for a Save-A-Lot and Dollar Tree store; opponents want a more high-end supermarket instead.
Yvonne Haskins, the lawyer for the protest organizers, is livid. She said the hearing was originally scheduled for Aug. 31, but that L&I wanted extra time since so many people wanted to attend.
“It was already postponed. He missed the boat,” she said. “We waited for two months to get this hearing.”
Haskins claimed Primavera’s motion aims to exclude the Chelten Plaza site from the existing zoning overlay.
“He wants to change the law to suit his client,” she said.
In regards to the continuance, Haskins said, “The Zoning Board’s action this morning flies in the face of transparency, integrity and accountability.”
A community that won’t back down
Within the past few weeks, the Germantown Historical Society joined the six other community organizations and businesses against the Dollar Tree.
In a motion approved by the Historical Society Board, treasurer Julie Stapleton Carroll wrote, “Germantown is at the crossroads of revitalization. It is our responsibility to ensure that we are good stewards of that revitalization,” as their reason to join the appeal.
State Sen. Shirley Kitchen (3rd District) has thrown her support behind the protestors along with Rosita Youngblood, State Representative in the 198th District and arguably the most vocal political figure against the development.
Despite having 73 people signed up to attend the meeting and nearly 2,000 signatures in hand, some protestors say the continuance won’t stop them.
“We should have planned for this,” says West Central Germantown Neighbors (WCGN) Secretary Susan Guggenheim. “I don’t think we should be dismayed, we are up for the challenge.”
Guggenheim says WCGN has raised more than $600 in donations specifically for the protest and that individuals have spent even more out-of-pocket in good will for various expensed.
But will they get a refund on that big yellow school bus? “We don’t know yet,” said Guggenheim. “But even if we don’t get it, it’s ok.”
Carl Primavera did not immediately respond to a request to further comment on the discrepancy.