For businesses, being a good neighbor is not necessarily a prerequisite

Opinion March 23, 2012 2 Comments

Pete Mazzaccaro

Regular readers are probably wondering why we haven’t had a whole lot to say about Children of America, the day care center that is currently transforming the former Borders Books at 8701 Germantown Ave.

Representatives came to a meeting of the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee in February to discuss their plans and take questions. The company’s representatives praised the neighborhood and said they were delighted to open their 9th Pennsylvanuia location here.

“We’re a long-term neighbor – we want to be a good neighbor,” said Benjamin Parks, the project manager responsible for getting the Chestnut Hill location up and running.

But since that meeting, the organization has been quiet. They haven’t been in touch with the CHCA since then.

The CHCA was hoping for information from Children of America regarding parking and traffic. They particularly wanted to know how parents would be able to drop off and pick up the 226 children the day care said it could handle without snarling traffic at what is already a pretty busy intersection. The CHCA also would like to know where the daycare’s staff is planning to park.

In an email to Newsworks contributor Jana Shea that was forwarded to a number of CHCA board members (and yours truly), Children of America COO Jim Perretty makes it pretty clear that Children of America is not interested in providing answers to the CHCA’s questions.

Perretty writes that he wants to be a good neighbor and that he’s open to discussions with the community however, he makes it clear, that Children of America is not terribly interested in working out traffic issues with the CHCA.

“This is not a situation involving a large scale development project that would require or warrant investigating or addressing the information being requested,” Perretty wrote. “Our use is permitted as a matter of right under the Philadelphia Zoning Code. We did not secure the Permit; the owner did.”

He writes on:

“It is our understanding that much of the operational and design information that is being requested was not required by the City to secure the Zoning Permit, or operate our business, in this existing building. Nowhere in the Zoning Code, other than for garages in Center City, is a traffic study required for any use, much less a daycare.

“We have no traffic studies to provide to the Committee, and never intended to conduct any. However, we are open to discuss any impacts there may be that we may have contributed to, with the Committee once we are operational.”

So the door is open to talk with the CHCA’s commitees, but only – read that last quoted paragraph – “once we are operational.”

I’m not of the opinion that Children of America is a bad business. And I’m not even prepared to say that’s it’s a bad fit for that property. But Perretty’s words here are an example of what might be a pretty troubling proposition for the Chestnut Hill Community Association.

And it should be troubling to the neighborhood’s residents, too.

The strength of the CHCA’s zoning process has always been its influence in the process of the zoning variance. When businesses need a special variance, permission to do something outside of the scope normal zoning for a property allows, they are required by the city to solicit the neighborhood for input, and hopefully, the neighborhood’s endorsement.

But any business that does not need a variance from the city has virtually no motivation to play ball with the CHCA, essentially making it much more difficult for anyone in the community to have a say in the development.

This isn’t a problem for the CHCA. It’s a problem for everyone in Chestnut Hill and the rest of Philadelphia. It illustrates the fact that there are times when zoning is completely beyond the control of local residents. Anyone concerned about traffic or parking as far as it concerns Children of America will have to take it up downtown with a government that’s not necessarily tuned to the community’s needs.

For any business, there’s no need to really be a good neighbor.

 

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  • Frank Castle

    Hi Pete…I would like to say you and the LOCAL were not warned about CHILDREN OF AMERICA, but and that is a big BUT…you were! I do not want to be overly critical, but for months the community has voiced concern about the Borders location. Every phone call has been met with insufficient knowledge about the COO. The owners of the property were silent and or uncooperative, the CHCA & or CHBA paid business development person ASSURED everybody in her statement that the COO would be a GREAT FIT, and any and all information would become available once the lease was signed. Meetings would be attended to by the COO and all questions presented by the community would be answered or at least heard. ONLY PROBLEM with this scencio is that the proverbial CART IS BEFORE THE HORSE! The COO representatives & ownership of the property would be like the CHESIRE CAT with a huge smile on their faces because THEY KNOW THE LEASE IS SIGNED ! Unbelievable but understandable ! Stupid is stupid does. I would think Ms. Reilly, the high priced business consultant has some explaining to do. Maybe not legally, but ethically ! The Chestnut Hill community deserves better.

  • Mikeg

    The CHCA has less and less credibility on zoning matters every week. It should relinquish control of these matters and stick to what it is really great at – enhancing and enriching the cultural life of the neighborhood and community.

    The DRC and its sub-c0mmittees ought to have binding authority in zoning matters. They are the experts. They expend the time and energy dealing with the parties and issues. Yet their work results in nothing more than a non-binding recommendation to the CHCA board. The CHCA, which depends on money contributions to exist and operate, is an unnecessarily complicated organization when it comes to zoning matters.

    Separate the DRC, et al from the CHCA and make it easier and clearer for parties engaging in zoning related matters to proceed.