by Wesley Ratko

Bowman Properties plans for redeveloping the former Magarity Ford site at 8200 Germantown Ave. include a mixed-use building on the corner of Germantown Avenue and Hartwell Lane that will feature retail along the Avenue with condominiums above, all anchored by a Fresh Market grocery store.

The Bowman proposal was formally unveiled at the April 19 meeting of the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee. While committee members and neighbors in attendance posed questions about traffic, noise and environmental conditions on the site, the proposal was positively received.

“We hope to present something over the next couple weeks, which we believe that Chestnut Hill will embrace,” said Bowman’s representative, attorney Matt McClure.

The retail area is envisioned as small storefronts, similar to those in Chestnut Hill now. In addition to the mixed-use building, a row of nine townhomes will be built facing Pastorius Park on the rear of the property along Shawnee Street. McClure described the project as an exciting new development that will reenergize Germantown Avenue.

Fresh Market, a North Carolina-based boutique supermarket chain with 125 stores in 18 Southern, Midwestern, mid-Atlantic, and New England states, features stores inspired by “open European style markets.”

According to a site plan displayed at the meeting, the proposed parking lot design shows traffic exiting onto Hartwell Lane. In order to keep traffic from going through the neighborhood behind the site, Bowman proposes to reverse the one-way direction of Hartwell Lane eastbound, toward Germantown Avenue. Traffic is now one-way westbound, coming off the avenue.

“Cars coming off the property will have to turn left,” said project architect Stan Runyan. “There are 85 parking spaces, and that kind of traffic coming back to the neighborhood would put a lot  of stress on those small streets.”

McClure told the committee that the traffic engineer would be present for the May meeting. The traffic engineer, Pennoni and Associates, is currently collecting data for a traffic study that will look at two components: trip generation, or the number of cars the new store will attract to the Avenue, and an analysis of how the change in direction of Hartwell Lane will impact the neighborhood. Included in the study’s recommendations could be a traffic light at the corner of Hartwell and Germantown Avenue.

Designing the site to locate parking on the side and rear of the property was a point of contention in the negotiations with Fresh Market, who wanted their store right on the Avenue.

“By locating the parking on the side and in the rear, they are buying into Chestnut Hill urbanism,” Runyan said.

Because the property is located in two zoning districts – one commercial, one residential – McClure indicated Bowman’s intention to divide the property into two parcels, A and B. Parcel A would include the area for the commercial development. Currently zoned C-7 (which prohibits residential uses), Bowman will ask for a rezoning to the C-3 Mixed Use Development zone, which does allow for residential use. Parcel B, now R-5, would be rezoned as R-10B to allow for the proposed townhome portion of the project.

While no elevation drawings were presented, there were questions about the height of the proposed structure and its compatibility with the surrounding buildings. McClure explained that the building would be designed to comply with the proposed C-3 Mixed Use Development zoning.

McClure pointed out that several buildings in Chestnut Hill, such as the Chestnut Hill Hotel, the J.S. Jenks Elementary School, the Bell Atlantic Building, and the Women’s Auxiliary Exchange are “iconic” or landmark buildings that don’t conform to zoning.

“It is not unusual to have a diverse group of buildings in Chestnut Hill,” McClure said.” The idea is to make sure that what you are proposing is compatible and sympathetic to its surroundings.”

Committee member Ned Mitinger asked about the environmental status of the site, referring to its extensive history as an auto dealership and service facility.

“It’s a clean site,” said Seth Shapiro, Nauset Group principal consultant and project manager. Shapiro explained that the property had gone through several rounds of testing, including tests to check for leaks around two underground storage tanks that will have to be removed during the demolition phase of the project. “We wouldn’t have bought it without those assurances,” he added.

One near neighbor expressed concern about an excess of truck traffic and noise from deliveries. Shapiro explained that the loading bay on the side of the building was designed to be enclosed, shielding the neighborhood from the noise associated with loading and unloading.

Shapiro said that written into the lease with Fresh Market was an understanding that the store would receive only one major truck shipment a day. He added that any truck traffic on and off the site would be significantly less disruptive than the car carriers that once unloaded cars along Germantown Avenue.

Most of the questions about the site were followed by general statements of support about the project. One resident of Mermaid Lane, Adam Ganz, expressed his desire for a good boutique market with reasonable hours and good selection.

“As the opposition gets on board at these meetings, I urge the committee and the association to consider what’s good for the betterment of Chestnut Hill as opposed to the few with an ulterior motive,” he said.

The committee took no formal action on the proposal.