Herbiary to discontinue Chestnut Hill classes after variance request battle

After a hard fought and oftentimes contentious battle, Herbiary is abandoning the fight to continue holding classes at its satellite location, 133 E. Mermaid Lane. Co-owner Andrew Celwyn announced the decision at the April meeting of the Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA) Board meeting on Thursday.

“After our classes are finished in June, we will be looking for a more supportive environment to enrich the lives of others with herbal teaching,” Celwyn stated.

The announcement came as a surprise to board members. The CHCA opposed Herbiary’s initial variance request in February, recommending that the owners, Celwyn and Maia Toll, resubmit their application to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) with corrected language that would separate Herbiary’s use from that of the rest of the property.

Celwyn and Toll expanded from their retail store on Germantown Avenue to hold herbal training classes at the E. Mermaid Lane location. Denied a new-use permit from the Department of Licenses and Inspection, they have been seeking community support since last autumn.

The refusal, however, made no mention of the business use and instead cited the conversion of a former office space into an apartment with no connection to Herbiary.

The property, owned by Ellen Deacon since 2002, contains a mixed-use building at its rear. It contains three upper floor apartments, plus a seven-bay garage and the former office on the ground level. The office was turned into an efficiency apartment after Deacon purchased the property.

A few nearby neighbors, led by Kristopher Jacobson, voiced vehement opposition to Herbiary’s business use on the property and an adjoining undeveloped parcel of land, also owned by Deacon. Toll and her students had been working to transform the overgrown lot into a community garden.

“I am so profoundly saddened by this whole situation,” Deacon said. “I’ve been earnestly seeking support to work out some kind of fair way forward.”

Jacobson told the board that he remained concerned about Herbiary’s amended use variance which is slated to go before the ZBA on Tuesday. Celwyn said it was not certain whether or not he and Toll will withdraw the request or if their lawyer will further amend it.

He noted that after Herbiary vacates the premises, Deacon intends to convert the garage space into residential space.

“I hope that whatever happens on this property, that it starts at square one, ” Jacobson remarked.

The language of the amended variance request addresses both Herbiary’s business use and the residential use of the property. Joyce Lenhardt, vice president of CHCA’s Physical Division, told the board that while language is different, the situation is “still muddled” as both uses remain on one application.

CHCA board members voted in opposition to the amended variance request.

Just prior to Celwyn’s announcement, Lenhardt proposed that the Land Use Planning and Zoning committee (LUPZ) form a subcommittee to advise owners of certain anomalous properties in the neighborhood, such as Deacon’s. The subcommittee, consisting of both LUPZ members and land owners, would study and identify appropriate use on such properties before the city’s Planning Commission remaps the area as part of its zoning reform process.

“The point is not to become police, the point is to be Land Use,” Lenhardt explained. “It’s really about trying to find something that’s good for everybody.”

Lenhardt’s proposal has been tabled for now.

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