Bowman Properties’ plans for the former Magarity Ford site on Germantown Avenue are only now coming more into real focus, but the Chestnut Hill community seems already conflicted about the project.
Developer Richard Snowden and the project team for the 8200 Germantown Ave. proposal discussed an array of details — including parking, more building designs, specific heights and greater traffic detail — with the Development Review Committee of the Chestnut Hill Community Association at a meeting Tuesday night. It was the second of what promises to be several meetings with community groups and neighborhood officials over coming months.
About 100 residents and near neighbors of the empty auto dealership also attended, and informal counts showed the crowd about evenly split in opinion concerning future development. Neighbors opposed to the plan as it exists now presented a 35-point list of questions and concerns about bringing The Fresh Market grocery store, along with condos, townhouses and a parking lot to the corner of Hartwell Lane and Germantown Avenue.
Many of the questions were answered in Bowman’s presentation; a new committee will seek to address ongoing concerns. The development review committee voted to form a working group made up of community members, project representatives and committee members to ensure near neighbors’ voices are heard.
Snowden’s plan would dramatically remake not only the property, but the intersection by adding a traffic light and possibly reversing the direction of the block of West Hartwell between Germantown and Shawnee Street.
Most significantly, it would also redevelop what is now essentially a blank wall of glass from the old vehicle showroom, along busy Germantown Avenue near the Roller’s eateries and Bredenbeck’s Bakery and Ice Cream Parlor.
Snowden said while the commercial corridor seems busy because of the flow of traffic and pedestrians, the business situation isn’t so rosy. Snowden’s company owns or has redeveloped dozens of properties in Chestnut Hill, and there are currently several significant vacancies along Germantown Avenue including the former Borders bookstore.
“It looks healthy, it seems like there’s a lot of traffic, but I want to tell you that it is not,” Snowden said. “Parts of the business district are hurting.”
The Fresh Market plan would add 6,500 square feet of retail space to the Germantown Avenue, and bring total of 23 new residences. Nine townhouses would create a new neighborhood along Shawnee Street, and 14 terraced condo units would sit above the retail shops.
It would also require complete rezoning of the properties, currently the auto dealership building and parking lot designated C7 and the unimproved back portion is R5. The developer would seek, likely through a bill in City Council, to change the zoning to R10b for the townhouses and C3 to allow the mixed use, said project attorney Matthew N. McClure.
Concerns include the size and scale of the buildings, the necessity of more retail and another food store on the commercial strip, possible noise and the effect of daily deliveries by one tractor-trailer and several box trucks.
Snowden said employees of the Fresh Market are, by company policy, not allowed to park in the store’s own parking lots.
“They don’t want any employee to be parked where a customer could be parked,” Snowden said.
For the Chestnut Hill store, many workers are expected to use public transportation but those who drive could park at local lots managed by the Chestnut Hill Parking Foundation, possibly through a long-term lease agreement, Snowden said.
With several meetings ahead with CHCA committees, including land use, parking, historic preservation and aesthetics, and Council about to go on summer recess, it will be September at the earliest before the plan could receive any official approval.
The next public meeting on the proposal will likely be at the July 11 meeting of the CHCA’s traffic and transit committee.
Mike Gonzalez, who lives on Southampton Street, asked several questions about traffic and whether the developer was willing to alter the plans based on results of ongoing traffic studies.
He said he has concerns about the project but in general, “some of us actually want to wait and decide based on data.”