Avenue slated for special zoning status

The (Chestnut) Hill's Germantown Ave. is scheduled for Special District zoning that will, along with other limitations, put protective power in the hands of Hillers by restricting new commercial uses to a maximum gross leasable area of 4,000 square feet.

Testimony on an ordinance to institute a Special District for Germantown Avenue between Chestnut Hill Ave. and Cresheim Valley Drive will be presented at a public hearing ....

The Special District zoning will protect the existing residential and commercial properties which are within and around the district and "critical to the vitality of this section of the City," according to the language in the (Philadelphia) City Council Bill. The bill also cites major private investments that have been made along the avenue and the restoration and reconstruction of numerous historic structures which have created employment opportunities and new housing units within the area.

"I am impressed with the ordinance," said 8th District Councilman Al Stewart to the Local on Tuesday. "The people in Chestnut Hill want to keep Germantown Avenue's vil. lage atmosphere. I can understand that. I love the avenue there and I am fully behind the avenue in the Hill being a Special District."

Other points in the amendment to the Philadelphia Code will mandate that:

  • Newly erected buildings shall have no set back from the street line of Germantown Ave.;
  • The main cornice line of an newly erected building shall not b less than 25 feet above the average sidewalk level;
  • Buildings or portions of buildings with frontage on Germantown Ave. shall be constructed so that the total frontage of the building along Germantown Ave. does not exceed 30 feet.
  • For lots fronting on German town Avenue between Chestnut Hill Avenue and Cresheim Valley Road off-street parking shall not be permitted between the building line and the street line.

    All of the above points were agreed upon May 27,1993 after several years of debate and meetings with representatives of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, the Chestnut Hill Business Association, the Chestnut Hill Historical Society and many meetings with City Planning Commission head Barbara Kaplan and others on her staff and with Bennett Levin and others from the Department of Licenses and Inspections, according to Valerie Wunder, president of the CHCA.

    Wunder detailed the sequence of events that have led to the proposed amendment to the City Code in an open letter, dated October 23, to John Herrick, vice president of the Chestnut Hill Business Association.

    Wunder's letter to Herrick is in response to one from him in August, 1995, asking that a joint long-range committee be set up to discuss an alternative to the 4,000 square foot limitation. Herrick is representing several persons in the business community who objected to the 4,000 square foot limitation.

    Wunder's letter points out that the CHBA was involved in discussions and meetings and that John Adams, then president of the Business Association, was one of 34 people voting in favor of the five specific limitations listed in the proposed ordinance.

    "The 4,000 square foot maximum commercial leasable space limitation ... is, like the other limitations... no longer a matter for debate in the CHCA," Wunder writes in her letter. She explains that the matter is now before City Council.

    Wunder tells Herrick that the process of developing the limitations for the Germantown Ave. Special District Controls "might have been long and somewhat tedious, but it succeeded in guaranteeing that the specific issues were continually set before the business and residential members of the community.

    "Further, CHCA bylaws mandate permanent representation on the Board from the Business Association, Historical Society, Parking Foundation and other organizations in our community, on whose board representatives from the CHCA also sit, in an effort to keep the channels of communication open, and give a voice to all members of our community," writes Wunder.

    The CHCA president says that the charge that the CHCA wants to restrict the growth of businesses in the community is untrue. The CHCA is "pro-business," she said, in pointing out the many things it has done to demonstrate that stance. Another charge she refutes in the letter is that the ordinance represents what some have called "illegal takings."

    "Zoning codes were created to protect the interests of the public and public resources. Legally limiting the rights of property owners is, in fact, the way all zoning laws work," her letter reads.

    "Passage of the ordinance will give our entire community the opportunity to have some influence on shaping the future of our shopping district and to protect its character," writes Wunder.

    The CHCA president says that businesses currently occupying more than 4,000 square feet will be "grandfathered" unless there has been a previous Zoning Board stipulation that the property must revert to its original zoning upon its sale.

    "Developers will not be prohibited from building beyond the 4,000 square foot limitation," says Wunder. "They simply must get a variance to do so. When they come to the community for support for such a variance, we will have an opportunity to introduce them to our 'village,' educate them about what we value about the Avenue and negotiate development revisions."

    Wunder says that the proposed Special District Ordinance, with all five of its specifics, will give the community the tools to communicate "what we value to City officials and prospective developers alike, and offers all of us in Chestnut Hill a modicum of input and control over our future."

    Back to the Chestnut Hill Local