After being issued a refusal by the city, property owner Sanjiv Jain approached Chestnut Hill’s Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee (LUPZ) for a variance to expand the building located at 8524 Germantown Avenue. The LUPZ met Thursday evening at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
By right, Jain can build on up to 75 percent of the lot. The building which currently stands there occupies 50 percent of a 100 foot lot. Jain wants a variance for a build-out equaling 100 percent of the area.
“It boils down to hardship” to get the variance said LUPZ Co-Chair, Cynthia Brey.
Jain explained that he signed a 10 year lease with his tenant, Greene Street Consignment but the current space is not sufficient for their needs. Trouble is, Jain told the proprietor that he would pursue a build-out as part of the lease agreement.
8524 Germantown Avenue sits along a row of buildings on the west side of the avenue. Behind the row is an alley way, with ingress and egress along Evergreen Avenue. Egress once was along Shawnee Street, but after the former A&P grocery store site was renovated that access was blocked by a stairwell and trees. Some limited parking is available behind the building row, as four of the properties occupy only 50 percent of their lots. The buildings closest to the alley’s entry point on Evergreen Avenue extend to the property line.
Committee member Larry McEwen voiced concern about the possibility of blocking the alley. “You are part of a drive that is through circulation,” he commented. He noted that the neighboring dry cleaner, Bonlynn Cleaners actively uses the alley for deliveries. Providing enough space for dumpster was another chief concern.
LUPZ Co-Chair John Landis remarked that the standard is set at 75 percent for good reason.
“We like to be consistent in how we make decisions,” Landis explained.
Jain, who has come before LUPZ twice in the past about the same property, also owns the site next door – tenanted by Penzey’s Spices – which occupies 100 percent of its lot with no issue. Jain argued that cars parked in the alley are doing so illegally, but thus far not presenting problems. He recommended towing those vehicles if any problem were to develop. Jain also noted that he provides parking passes for his tenants in the adjacent Parking Foundation lot.
Some of the problem is the result of who actually has right of easement. Jain stated that all properties along Evergreen Avenue and two along Shawnee Street have the right to use the alley way. However, the properties along Germantown Avenue behind which the alley runs that are not his (Jain owns 8524-28 Germantown Avenue) do not have that right-of-way.
Brey stated that there is a need for people to have use of the alley whether they have right-of-way or not. Committee member John Haak said that a variance would have to accommodate the needs of any potential use in the building since the city of Philadelphia will be reexamining zoning in Chestnut Hill in the next few years. The property is zoned C1, but may not stay that way. Allowing for a 100 percent buildout sets a precedent “that makes us uncomfortable,” remarked Landis.
“It’s not gonna happen,” committee member Harriet Brumberg warned Jain.
In the end, a compromise was reached between the two parties. LUPZ members voted in support of recommending a variance to increase constraint of Jain’s property at 8524 Germantown Avenue to 90 percent of lot line, with a remainder of no less than 10 feet of space.
Neighbor Laura George, who was in attendance said providing the 10 foot allowance for parking and a dumpster without blocking alley “sounds reasonable.”
Status Update For 8200 Germantown Avenue
Since last month’s meeting, three LUPZ committee members – Joyce Lenhardt, Cynthia Brey and Andrew Moroz – formed a Technical Review subcommittee together with neighbor Matt Millan. The subcommittee has recently met twice to pour over documents and plans for the Bowman Properties development at 8200 Germantown Avenue. The subcommittee’s review process is being undertaken to ensure compliance on all terms on an agreement reached between the developer and CHCA.
Bowman Properties’ mixed-use project will feature a 20,000 square foot Fresh Market supermarket and retail space on the ground level, plus luxury condominiums on the upper four stories. The rear of the property will also feature townhouses along Shawnee Street.
“Things are proceeding,” Lenhardt reported.
Brey noted that the subcommittee had gone over “soup to nuts” clarification of the project’s design development. In doing so, committee members found a discrepancy in the way an agreement was written pertaining to the front mass of the building.
The requirement is that the taller building would be limited to 150 feet off Hartwell Lane, and 180 feet from the corner of Market Lane. Lenhardt explained that the assumption was these numbers would be in line to make a right angle. Instead, there is a “small wedge of non-compliance,” she disclosed.
“In reviewing the building, we found that we like what they’re doing. They’ve simplified the mass of the building. We didn’t feel that we needed them to pull building back to eliminate the wedge,” Lenhardt stated.
Lenhardt also said that Bowman Properties has offered to set back the row of townhouse buildings five feet from Hartwell Lane “to sweeten the pot.”
Next month Bowman Properties will come before LUPZ to discuss design development.
LUPZ’s Technical subcommittee will next ask the developer for further details on the following: garage doors, schedule for discussions with PennDOT on bump-outs, plan for storm water management, landscape plan, landscape management plan, details on the elevator override, 5th floor design plans, specifics for next phase and a material board presentation.
“A lot of it isn’t developed yet,” acknowledged Lenhardt.
LUPZ has also drafted letter requesting confirmation from the City’s Planning Commission that it will let the current zoning process continue, allowing for additional meetings and continuances beyond the 45 days which will be required by Philadelphia’s new zoning code when it is implemented in August. McEwan emphasized that the letter makes clear that LUPZ’s intention is to educate a developer of the value of the process. “Going through our process is going to greatly increase our ability to support the project at the ZBA,” he asserted.
McEwan also mentioned that the Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA) and its Business Association are looking to join forces in better coordination of streetscapes issues along Germantown Avenue.
McEwan stated that Seth Shapiro, president of Chestnut Hill’s Business Improvement District might be willing to provide financial support for a revamp of CHCA’s website. Plans for the overhaul include a providing a listing of all scheduled meetings, a downloadable DRC application that will be able to be completed with electronic signature and an explanation of the zoning process. McEwan said the goal for the improved website is to make it clearer with less confusion. “Anything that we can do to communicate that for the uninitiated,” he said.
To avoid scheduling conflicts with Independence Day vacation plans, LUPZ voted to push back its next monthly meeting to July 10.