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WMAN, developers reach compromise on W. Johnson St. project

 Zoning attorney Bill Curr presents revised building plans to West Mt. Airy Neighbors members and residents at Wednesday's meeting. (Queen Muse/for NewsWorks)

Zoning attorney Bill Curr presents revised building plans to West Mt. Airy Neighbors members and residents at Wednesday's meeting. (Queen Muse/for NewsWorks)

A compromise has apparently been reached between West Mt. Airy Neighbors (WMAN) group members and real-estate company Nolen Properties over the developers’ plan to build an apartment building on West Johnson Street.

The two groups continued discussions on Wednesday regarding Nolen’s proposed construction of a modern five-story apartment building on land between the historic Nugent and Presser buildings.

Friction relents

At previous meetings, neighbors expressed concerns that — per the developers’ plan — the building would be either too big or architecturally awkward to mesh with the neighborhood’s historic buildings.

When Nolen opted to stick with its original construction plan, neighbors and WMAN members voted against the project at a previous meeting.

“At our second meeting, we had [around] 20 people there and … they voted against it overwhelmingly,” said Yvonne Haskins, WMAN board member. “Then, this [zoning] committee voted against it. We were prepared to send a letter to the zoning board that said that we opposed it.”

At Wednesday’s meeting — held at Summit Presbyterian Church, 6727 Greene St. — locals had a change of heart.

“It is amazing to see some people who we thought would never come around now supporting the project,” said Susan Dannenberg, vice chair of the Mt. Airy Neighbors Zoning Committee. “It’s really an amazing turnaround.”

What brought it about

The positive response stemmed from some major construction-plan changes presented by Nolen’s Managing Director Richard Sudall, Morrie Zimmerman of BWA Architecture & Planning and zoning attorney Bill Curr.

Instead of building one large apartment building along West Johnson Street, Nolen will construct two smaller L-shaped buildings adjacent to an existing carriage house at the rear of the property.

The proposed height has also been reduced from five to four stories, and renovation of the carriage house has also been added.

While only 11 residents were on hand, the majority voted in favor of the project. McCallum Street resident Karen Escovitz’s was among those positive votes.

Escovitz, who was in vocal opposition at previous meetings, extended her appreciation to the developers for altering their plans.

“Some of us were saying, ‘Why not build more on the back of the lot?’ And, that’s exactly what they did,” she said. “I want to express my appreciation for the fact that you ditched your plans, went back to the drawing board and got something that I think is really responsive to the neighbors.”

The WMAN committee said it would also vote on the revised plan and will make its recommendations at Nolen’s next hearing before the Zoning Board of Adjustments. That hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. on July 16.

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