by Wesley Ratko
Fire trucks keep getting wider, but the stations that house them stay the same size. In Chestnut Hill, the home of Engine 37 at 101 West Highland Avenue is a century old and can barely accommodate the size of its current truck. New equipment may exceed the capacity of this historic building and the Philadelphia Fire Department is looking for solutions.
The Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee addressed this problem at its September meeting Tuesday night, Sept. 18. At issue is whether to modify the existing station or build a new one.
“It is an immediate problem,” said Joyce Lenhardt, vice president of the Physical Division, adding that new equipment could be as little as three years away. “Planning [for a new station] has to happen now.”
Lenhardt and Land Use Planning and Zoning committee co-chair Larry McEwen have been in contact with the Philadelphia Fire Department and put the topic on the agenda for discussion. No one from the Fire Department was present. Lenhardt said further guidance from the fire department regarding the right approach is needed.
That approach is one of two options – retrofitting of the existing station building to widen the front doors and accommodate wider modern trucks or build a completely new station. A vacant lot directly next to the fire station was identified as a potential site for the new station.
Lenhardt said the department is open about which solution to pursue, but said they want the community to stand behind them in support of a course of action.
Committee member Mark Keitz asked about location requirements and whether the station needed to be in Chestnut Hill at all. McEwen said that Chestnut Hill is so remote compared with other areas of the city and its other stations that it needs to be on the Hill.
John Landis said he couldn’t make a recommendation without knowing what the fire department’s preferences were. He was reluctant, however, to assume that construction of a new building would be the best solution.
“If this is the right location for the fire station, then altering the door is the cheaper solution,” Landis said.
Any modifications to the building would compromise the historic integrity of the building, something the Chestnut Hill Historical Society is against.
Landis also expressed a concern about the fate of the current building should the fire department decide to move to a new building.
“There are many examples of older government buildings sitting unused,” he said.
McEwen said there is interest in using the building for some kind of community purpose should the fire department leave it, although no details about what that purpose might be or who would purchase the building from the city’s Department of Public Property. Landis said he’d like to investigate all possibilities regarding a retrofit.
Lenhardt cautioned that the best solution was not just a matter of money. She reported that there was only so much a retrofit of the building could do. “I don’t see a good solution without completely destroying the front of the building,” she said.
If a new building were to be constructed, it would be a single story structure. While the current structure is three stories high with living quarters on the upper floors, modern fire stations lack such accommodations.
When this came up at the August CHCA Board of Directors meeting, Lenhardt noted that Richard Snowden and Frank Niepold agreed to be part of an ad hoc committee that would investigate potential reuses for the current station building. Neither man was present at Tuesday’s meeting.
Lenhardt recommended additional discussion with the fire department to get a sense of what they want.
“It sounds like the fire department wants community backing to build a new station,” Landis said.
The committee took no formal action but agreed to investigate the wishes of the fire department and, if a new building were to be built, how the current station would be reused.
Patricia Cove raised the issue of mural guidelines, which first came before the committee last spring, with the announcement that Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Society would sponsor a mural on the side of Bredenbeck’s Bakery at 8126 Germantown Avenue. Work on the mural is currently underway.
Cove said there was some division among members of the Historic District Advisory Committee regarding whether or not to have mural guidelines at all, given that murals aren’t something members of the committee want. Cove said she felt the Bredenbeck’s mural was the first of many and there should be guidelines in place.
“We’re not going to stop the murals, so we should have some guidelines in place,” Cove said. Cove first presented a statement on murals last March.
Landis suggested that there are some buildings in Chestnut Hill that are more appropriate for murals than others and that they might begin with a visual inspection of the Avenue to choose which walls would be well-suited for murals. More discussion on this is scheduled for the October DRC meeting – they took no other formal action.
The DRC considered a request for support of a zoning variance for a property at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Norman Lane. Property owner Cornelis van den Muyzenberg is looking to build a new, attached, two-car garage along Norman Lane.
He is scheduled to appear before the Zoning Board of Adjustment in November.
The Development Review Committee referred Mr. Muyzenberg to the meetings of the Historical Society and the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee. Representing the Historical Society, Patricia Cove asked him to bring samples of the stucco and stone selected for the exterior façade of the garage to their October meeting.
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