Planning Commission backs rezoning for 8200 Germantown Ave. project

As expected, the city Planning Commission signed off on the retail-residential development plan for 8200 Germantown Ave., ahead of a City Council vote on Thursday.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting, planning staffer Paula Brumbelow detailed a redux of her presentation at the commission’s Nov. 11 meeting, at which commissioners voted to delay taking an official stance on the plan while neighbors continued talks with developer Bowman Properties.

Since then, the plans underwent a few changes, reflecting agreements with neighbors and addressing some concerns about height and density. While the talks didn’t result in major alterations and some in the neighborhood maintain their objections, the Chestnut Hill Community Association approved the plan Monday night.

“It meets the Phila2035 context by supporting the goals of enhancing neighborhood centers, and enhancing the public realm,” Brumbelow said, noting the CHCA approval.

Neighbors Terry Halbert and Eric Spaeth appeared at the meeting, re-stating concerns about height and density and decrying what they called was a flawed process that was only ever going to end one way: with outgoing Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller sponsoring laws that would allow developer Richard Snowden’s plan.

“His team made it very clear to all of us that their plan was to go to City Council and get zoning legislation that would enable their plan to exist just the way they want it to,” Halbert said.

Bowman has said they were advised to seek the re-mapping legislation on the advice of Planning Commission staff, through a letter from Licenses and Inspections official Michael Fink.

Halbert said Bowman’ certainty of support in Council meant the community had no real leverage in the negotiations.

“I feel that the Community Association itself had that gun to its head,” she said. “We really feel that the process itself has been deeply flawed.”

Spaeth said the CHCA, far from representing the broader interests of Chestnut Hill residents, gives the insight of only the relatively small group of people who participate in it. Many CHCA board members live outside the neighborhood, he said, and only about 175 people voted in the group’s last election.

Some of the opposition came from the leadership and members of the Weaver’s Way co-op, which actively campaigned against the Bowman plan and had previously tried to buy the property. Weaver’s Way general manager Glen Bergmann appeared at a Council Rules committee meeting on Nov. 30 to speak out against the project, saying it would add additional retail space to a commercial strip already peppered with empty storefronts.

In his testimony, however, Bergman indicated he would get behind the plan if the CHCA signed off.

“We would prefer that this would go . . . through the Chestnut Hill Community Association review and let the community work it out with the developer,” Bergman testified. “I would hold that, and if they can work that out, then we are fine with it.”

Project representatives and planning commission members pushed back at opposition.

“We started in April, we had hundreds of hours of meetings with neighbors. Many, many, many meetings. If this was a fait acompli, then I have no idea why I was at all of those meetings,” said project attorney Matt McClure.

Commission chairman Alan Greenberger, too, expressed misgivings about Halbert’s petition and whose feelings it really represents.

“Certainly, since I’m a member of Weaver’s Way, I’m aware of the campaign that Weaver’s promoted to sign petitions that really have to do with competitiveness because of food selling,” Greenberger said. “My feeling is that if you’re concerned about Weaver’s Way, you should shop at Weaver’s Way.”

City Council is expected to take a final vote on Miller’s bills at its final meeting of the year, on Thursday.

Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.