August 14, 2008 Issue
Chestnut Hill Local
Don't Miss an Issue,
Tell us what you see or
LUPZ gives provisional OK to Treehouse Play Café
The Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee last week agreed to endorse the Treehouse Play Café project at 8524 Germantown Ave. on a provisional basis.
“The Treehouse Play Café is … new, it’s innovative — it will bring caregivers and parents with kids who happen to be the retail high-end demographic that many would say the Avenue lacks,” interim LUPZ chairman Larry McEwan said at the committee’s Aug. 7 meeting. “That’s why some of the major stores have left as soon as their leases expired. So we have to look at all these issues in the constellation of the variances that were requested.”
McEwan said he thought the project could help to revitalize the Avenue, but developer Sanjiv Jain would have to address some lingering questions and objections before the Design Review Committee and the Chestnut Hill Community Association could give him the go-ahead.
Jain’s plans for the property call for demolition of the existing two-story building to make way for a three-story restaurant and play space. Because the new building would fill 100 percent of the property lot and put the second and third floors to non-residential use, Jain and Play Café manager Rachael Williams are seeking a zoning variance based on hardship. (City zoning law for that type of property permits only 75 percent ground coverage and retail use only on the first floor.)
Jain’s approval from the LUPZ was tied to getting support from all business owners and residents likely to be affected by the construction, which will take place behind the west side of the 8500 block of Germantown Avenue, eliminate a provision in his contract with the Glendenning family that calls for the LUPZ to mediate disputes over the construction, and show that he has met all the structural requirements proposed by the LUPZ and the DRC, including a 35-foot height limit on the building.
But getting approval from some business owners and residents will be difficult for Jain.
A group called the Chestnut Hill Zoning Preservation Coalition opposes the zoning variance because its members believe a hardship was never proven.
“Variances require that applicants show hardship to the land, something that makes their property special, difficult to develop, and because of that, they request relief from zoning authorities,” the group wrote in an e-mail sent to the LUPZ about three hours before the Aug. 7 meeting.
“A project with community benefit may overcome these hurdles,” the e-mail continued, “but variances are not simply for economic benefit. In this case, the LUPZ never asked the applicant what that hardship was, and the applicant never pleaded hardship as part of his application. The real hardship would be inflicted upon the nearby neighbors, who would suffer serious business interruptions and loss of income.”
The e-mail also said Jain’s request to use the alley behind the western 8500 block of Germantown Avenue would prevent five businesses from receiving deliveries and take up their parking spots. Because sections of the alley are legally the property of the building owners, the challengers contend that Jain would be violating city ordinances if he did not get written permission from each building owner.
Suzanne O’Neil and Carol Warner were the only members of the coalition to attend the meeting, but the document had 11 signatories in all, including Jacqui Coll Wivel, leasing director for Bowman Properties; Francis O’Donnell of O’Donnell Repartnership; CHCA board member and McNally’s Tavern proprietor Anne McNally; Sandra MacEachern of Robertson’s Flowers; Ronald Klinger, who rents the 8520 Germantown Ave. property to the jeweler Caleb Meyer; Marsi Breslau, owner of the Paperia; Seung Joon Lee, owner of Bonlynn Cleaners; Daniel B. Weiss of the Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop, and Gerald Schultz of the Antique Gallery.
Seven of the signatories do not own businesses attached to the alley in question
“I’ve done this in good faith every step of the way,” Jain said in response to the e-mail. “I’m very surprised by some of the signatures on here.”
Jain said he had believed he had the overwhelming support of business owners in the vicinity, especially O’Donnell, who he said had given him a written endorsement during an earlier stage of the project. But he said he was willing to do whatever it took to move ahead with the project.
The DRC will review the plans at its Aug. 19 meeting. The CHCA board of directors could vote on the variance at its next meeting.Contact staff writer Joel Hoffman at 215-248-8819 or email@example.com.