by Terry Halbert

The Magarity site is 2.1 acres, halfway up Germantown Avenue in the middle of the commercial district of Chestnut Hill. What is done to develop this site will be critically important for the economic vitality and livability of our entire neighborhood.

I am one of a group of near neighbors. Over recent months two things have become clear. First, our concerns are shared by hundreds of other people who live in Chestnut Hill — a significant portion of all the residents here. Second, negotiations between the Chestnut Hill Community Association and the developer have not yielded meaningful progress on these concerns.

What are the concerns that we believe are not being addressed?

Height. Most buildings on Germantown Avenue are 2 and 3 stories high. We would like the one at 8200 Germantown Avenue to rise no more than 3 to 4 stories.

Density. The row of townhouses on Shawnee should have spaces between them. We would like to see three twins, or six dwellings, with enough space between the buildings to glimpse the park, and we would like them to be no higher than 35 feet, consistent with residences in the near neighborhood.

Setback. Hartwell Lane is a small one-way street with rowhouses and small twins on its residential side. Bowman’s plan will place the back wall of the supermarket along Hartwell. We ask that there be a setback of eight feet— the normal setback in residential Chestnut Hill — to give a decent amount of space between these small houses and the back wall of the supermarket, which will rise 28 feet.

Buffer. We ask for vegetation and a retaining wall along the Southampton-facing side of the development.

We haven’t had much time to walk the streets of Chestnut Hill with our petition. It’s been only a few weeks of gathering signatures. Even so, as of Sunday, December 4, 576 people from the 19118 (Chestnut Hill) zip code had signed a petition against changing the zoning of the Magarity site by ordinance. In our relatively small community with, I am told, 2,000 residences, this is a number indicating widespread concern about the impacts of the present design.

We know that Richard Snowden has done some fine work restoring buildings in our community. We are confident that it would be best if he, rather than some other developer, created the mixed-use  project at the Magarity site.

It is our hope that the community association, which will be reaching its final decision by Dec. 12, takes into account the modest changes that we would like to see, and also allows itself to consider the weight of opinion represented by our petitioners.