by Wesley Ratko
Bowman Properties plans to convert the former Magarity Ford site to a retail and housing complex, and its scheduled run before City Council dominated the discussion at the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Land Use Planning and Zoning committee on Nov. 3.
According to LUPZ member Joyce Lenhardt, Bowman Properties has made significant changes to the plans based on feedback received from a negotiating committee composed of neighbors, Bowman representatives and LUPZ members led by Lenhardt.
Bowman was unable to present those plans to the LUPZ meeting Thursday night, but scheduled a meeting to review them with the negotiating committee the next day, Friday, Nov. 4.
“Our concerns haven’t changed at all in the last two months and, for the most part, they haven’t been responded to,” LUPZ co-chair John Landis said.
He added that issues such as zoning, traffic, massing, the lack of community amenities, parking, setback and buffers are just now starting to be addressed.
Still Landis said he believed accommodating Bowman Properties’ expedited schedule would be the most effective means of getting him to address the concerns expressed by the community.
“Apparently [Bowman’s revised plans] are quite different,” Landis said. “I don’t necessarily think I’m going to like it, but I want to give [Bowman] the benefit of the doubt.”
The LUPZ proposed a second meeting to allow the committee to review the plan before it goes to the board, something that LUPZ members believed could happen as soon as Thursday, Nov. 17. Lenhardt told the committee that Bowman president Richard Snowden has suggested to her that he could present the plans directly to the Board. Doing so would effectively bypass both the LUPZ and the DRC.
“We’ve discouraged that,” Lenhardt said.
She said that her opposition to that strategy comes without any specific knowledge about the changes to Bowman’s plans. Her concern for the importance of the committee process was echoed by those in attendance.
“That, in my opinion, doesn’t allow enough time for the project of this magnitude and significance to get vetted by the community,” said Lenhardt.
The Local learned on Monday, Nov. 7, that Bowman Properties would likely appear at a special meeting of the board to be called in December. A recent change in the CHCA’s bylaws eliminated December meetings. A special board meeting would allow the LUPZ to have more time to work with Bowman Properties on the plan before a board meeting. The proposal has already been introduced to City Council, though Snowden has promised to let the CHCA board vote on the matter before zoning changes are considered by City Council.
Unlike other projects considered by the LUPZ, which typically seek support for zoning variances, Bowman Properties is looking to have the zoning of the site changed through city legislation.
LUPZ member John Haak said Bowman’s proposal was on the agenda for the November 15 Philadelphia City Planning Commission meeting.
Bowman’s schedule to have the plan approved by the board before the end of the year left some with the feeling they were being squeezed and concerned about reaching an agreement that the CHCA and neighbors could live with.
“If he shows us something that is within the realm of possibility, I think we should be open to having some additional meetings with the LUPZ to look at this and consider it,” Landis said.
He added that the LUPZ should try to accommodate Bowman’s expedited timeframe given that the recent changes show a willingness to work substantively with the negotiating committee.
LUPZ co-chair Cynthia Brey appeared less optimistic.
“If he shows a five- or six story building, what is the opinion of the committee here?” she asked.
“I think we’re at a point where we should be able to use some latitude to create an arena for ourselves to consider the issue,” said Committee member Larry McEwen. “I don’t think we should be hog tied while somebody is basically railroading something through.”
Landis added: “We will push Richard to show us what he’s got, and we will also push him to continue to address these points that we have consistently emphasized.”