Neighbors get first look at proposed Bottom Dollar Food store

The developer planning to build a Bottom Dollar Food store at Chew Avenue and Washington Lane in Germantown gave a small group of key neighborhood leaders a preview of the project Wednesday night, but promises a larger community meeting in the coming weeks.

A group of a dozen people, including block captains, members of local civic groups and a representative of Ninth District Councilwoman Marian Tasco’s office met at the home of Rev. Chester Williams to discuss plans for an 18,000 square-foot Bottom Dollar, along with 62 parking spots, on what is now a large vacant lot at the busy corner.

While the name suggests bargains, Bottom Dollar Food is not an off-price, off-brand or “dollar” store, said developer Richard L. Soloff, who has built several of the stores in the area and has plans for others. Bottom Dollar stores have large fresh produce and meat areas, and a full line of groceries including national brand items.

“This is a full-service grocery and supermarket,” Soloff said. “It is, make no mistake, a high-quality, full-blown supermarket.” The store could be open within a year and would employ about 100 people once open, he said. Hours would likely be 7 a.m to 10 p.m. during the week and until 9 p.m. on Saturday.

The site will not be a franchise, but wholly owned by the company’s corporate parent, Food Lion Inc., which operates more than 1,700 supermarkets from Maine to South Carolina under several different names. Soloff also developed and owns a Bottom Dollar at Broad and Godfrey Avenue and had to quickly expand the fresh produce capacity due to customer demand, he said.

An agreement of sale is in place for the property, contingent on approvals to build the Bottom Dollar, Soloff said. Site plans show the store will face Washington Lane, with a loading dock area behind the building, and signage on the Chew side. Building facades will have anti-graffiti coating and shopping carts will have locking mechanisms preventing them from being stolen from the property.

Terry Hubbard, who lives in an apartment on Chew almost overlooking the site, said she couldn’t wait for the store to open but worried about lights from the property shining in her windows. Kelsen said all property lighting will be directed inward and down at the building, to keep it from disturbing nearby neighbors.

Hiring for construction jobs will be done as part of a city-approved Economic Opportunity Plan, using union labor and with an effort to employ local residents. Neither the developer nor the lawyer would comment on whether workers inside the store once it opens will also be union members.

On the whole, the neighbors who gathered in Rev. Williams’ home were enthusiastic in their support for bringing a grocery store to the neighborhood, but there were some concerns about safety, traffic, and the possibility of jobs for area residents both during construction and once the store is open.

Williams, president of the Chew & Belfield Neighbors Club Inc., asked whether the site was large enough to include a sit-down restaurant, something the neighborhood lacks, but project representatives said it was too small.

Bottom Dollar will require zoning approval

The property at Washington Lane and Chew Avenue is actually comprised of seven different parcels, some zoned for commercial uses and some for residential, so the project will need a use variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment — and community approval — before it can proceed.

The variance request was to have gone before the ZBA on Sept. 5, but attorney Peter Kelsen said he asked for a continuance because it had been put on the schedule for a hearing before they had the chance to meet with community groups and Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass.

“We wanted to make sure we know who the representative groups were in the community that we should be meeting with,” Kelsen said.

Several in the group expressed concerns about crime and the condition of the area as it is now; Kelsen said adding a new, active use — especially a full-service supermarket — could siphon off activity and business from the nuisance stop-and-go shop on the opposite corner.

“My question is, how is little Johnny and Mary going to walk to the store for their mom and be safe,” asked Eugene Albert, representing the Awbury Neighbors Association. Others agreed that safety was a concern but said the store’s owners weren’t necessarily responsible for the neighborhood’s overall condition.

Mt. Airy Transit Village also proposed for same site

Mt. Airy USA has proposed another project for the site called the Mt. Airy Transit Village project, though that residential-retail project is looking increasingly unlikely. Last year, city officials heralded additional funding for what was supposed to be a $60 million with 200 residential units.

But in recent months, officials have been reluctant to discuss the Mt. Airy Transit Village project publicly, and more than one insider has said the project is either completely off or will come to fruition in a much-reduced version.

Still, a full-service supermarket in a location that is walkable to nearby residents and to the Washington Lane SEPTA station is in line with transit-oriented development principles being put into play in that area.

“It’s going to change the dynamic of that quadrant,” Kelsen said. “We hope that this will be a real catalyst for other developments.”

For the next step, Kelsen said he will work with Williams and other community leaders to find a large enough space to hold a community-wide meeting. Stay tuned to NewsWorks for continuing coverage of this issue and details of that future meeting.

 (Revised 9/13/12 @ 4:30 p.m. to show Mt. Airy USA is not a partner in the project)

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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