Richard K, Gelber, AIA,
Principal spg3 Architects

My architectural firm spg3 and I are the architects of record for Bowman Properties’ proposed redevelopment of the Magarity site.  I am writing in response to Mr. Glenn Bergman’s opinion piece that appeared in Weavers Way’s November newsletter. I understand that Mr. Bergman’s opinion piece has since been republished in other periodicals.

In his opinion piece, Mr. Bergman makes several incorrect statements regarding the proposed re-zoning legislation, the development review process and certain design characteristics of the project.  As the architect of record, I feel that it is appropriate for me to correct these statements:
Incorrect Statement No. 1:  “If the parcel is rezoned as Bowman is seeking, there would be no constraints at all on what could be built there; it would have the same zoning classification as Liberty Place or any other Center City skyscraper.”

Fact:  The proposed re-zoning legislation would not allow for the construction of a skyscraper.  Most Center City skyscrapers are zoned C-5 Commercial.  This zoning permits among other things a floor area ratio of 1,200 percent of the site.  Mr. Bergman cites Liberty Place as an example.  Liberty Place is zoned C-5 and is a 61-story, 945 foot tall building.

The Magarity site is proposed to be rezoned C-2 Commercial.  This zoning classification exists directly across the street and throughout the Germantown Avenue business district.  Although C-2 Commercial usually allows for a commercial building to be constructed up to 60 feet tall, the Germantown Avenue Overlay is proposed to be modified so that a mixed use structure on the site could be no higher than 70 feet tall, provided that there are significant setbacks from the Germantown Avenue cornice line, that the majority of the lot along West Hartwell is capped at 35 feet tall and that the floor area ratio be no more that 150 percent of the site. Our proposal includes all three of these attributes.  These are not “skyscraper” dimensions.

Incorrect Statement No. 2:  “Bowman Properties has decided to circumvent the Chestnut Hill Community Association and the zoning variance process by hiring the law firm Ballard-Spahr to go directly to City Council, seeking a political solution that would rezone the entire property and remove virtually all restrictions on that site.”

Fact:  Under the proposal, the site will be re-zoned to C-2 Commercial which already exists on other properties along Germantown Avenue.  In requesting this zoning, Bowman Properties has not circumvented the Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA).  Meetings with CHCA representatives started over one year ago and formal public meetings started in April – seven months ago.

Since that time, the project team has been presented to CHCA’s Development Review Committee (twice), Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee, its Traffic and Transportation Committee (attended by the City’s Chief Traffic Engineer), the Historical Advisory Committee and many multi-hour sessions with CHCA’s specially-formed Subcommittee for the project. There have also been two separate presentations to the neighbours.  Before City Council votes on the legislation, Bowman will meet again with the Development Review Committee, the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee and CHCA’s full board.  I do not believe that this is a circumvention of CHCA.

The decision to seek legislation rather than zoning variances was primarily dictated by the peculiarities of the existing zoning, and by the new enhanced role of the City Planning Commission in important redevelopment projects as opposed to the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Incorrect Statement No. 3:  “The development is being built right to the property line, with no green space or setback, no community space, and none of the aesthetics or landscaping so in tune with Chestnut Hill.”

Fact:  The development proposal involves the redevelopment of a former auto dealership, with service and body shop and large surface parking lots into a modern mixed use development.  The project has many sustainable features, among them, a green roof over the grocery, a state-of-the-art storm water management system and, yes, density.

Density in an urban area like Chestnut Hill is appropriate and represents a sustainable planning practice.  As for building up to the property line, the Germantown Avenue Overlay, which I understand was as written and approved by CHCA, requires that there be no setback from the property line along Germantown Avenue.   To design the landscaping, Bowman has engaged a well-regarded landscape architect who has put together a very generous landscaping plan.  This will be the most landscaped commercial property along the Germantown Avenue business district.

Mr. Bergman noted that Weavers Way intended to convert the existing building into a restaurant and grocery, while constructing housing in the back.  Converting the existing building has some major functional and design drawbacks.  For example, the building has no loading or trash facilities.  Where would the food trucks unload and where would the trash be stored?  The Bowman proposal incorporates an enclosed loading dock and trash area within the building walls.

I hope everyone in Chestnut Hill will attend one or more of the upcoming meetings on the project and form their own opinions about the proposal.  We are very excited about this project and look forward to continued discussions about the proposal.