Chestnut Hill residents may soon get a look at the proposed plans.
Chestnut Hill residents may soon get a look at proposed plans for the redevelopment of the one-story building at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Bethlehem Pike, which is owned by developer Michael Young.
“We’re not completely finished the drawings yet,” Young told the Local last week, adding that “we’ll probably be back to the CHCA design review committee closer to the summer.”
According to his zoning application, which Young filed with the city in August 2022, he is planning a four-story, 30-unit apartment building for the property, which formerly housed a Santander Bank branch. The existing building, which according to city records was built in 1978 and is about 5,000 square feet, is currently zoned CMX 2.5, which means his proposal conforms to existing code and can be built “by right.”
Many Chestnut Hill residents view the addition of more housing on the block as a potential boon to the neighborhood’s business corridor. They also worry, however, about how it could affect the historic Chestnut Hill Baptist Church, which is located right next door.
Neighbors are already fighting a different developer’s plan to build a five-story, 33-unit apartment building directly on the other side of the church, on the now empty lot at 10 Bethlehem Pike. Young’s proposed building on Germantown Avenue could effectively sandwich that historic building, with its elegant spire and tall, elongated windows, between the two.
“Putting more housing on both sites is probably a pretty good thing; it’s more customers for Chestnut Hill businesses and we could certainly use more housing,” said John Landis, a Chestnut Hill resident and professor emeritus of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania. But Landis is concerned that if both projects end up being built, it would “sort of dwarf [the church] and set it apart in a way that’s not very desirable,” he said.
Jeff Duncan, a nearby neighbor, agreed with Landis. The church was designed to collect vast amounts of natural light in its interior, Duncan said in a phone call with the Local. Having two large apartment buildings on either side could jeopardize that.
“If both buildings were built, we’d have the architectural equivalent of a vice squeezing out the light of the Baptist Church,” he added. “I think that would be a terrible shame for a landmark building.”
The 10 Bethlehem Pike project remains in limbo, as neighbors are fighting it in court. In a recent Court of Common Pleas ruling, a judge revoked its permits, but the development team has plans to appeal.
If both projects get built, a total of 63 new residential units would appear on the corner of Germantown Avenue and Bethlehem Pike.
“Before anything is built, it would be such a wonderful opportunity to think about that corner as a whole rather than three separate pieces,” said Lori Salganicoff, executive director of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy. “It would be great for whichever buildings are being proposed to take advantage of and really highlight the opportunity that this corner presents.”
Young, who lives in Lafayette Hill, said he is aware of the historic nature of the community and that Chestnut Hill residents should have “no concerns” about what his building will look like or how it will impact the avenue.
While he has not yet fully developed his design plans, he said, he does know for sure that the project will include retail space on the ground floor, most of which is already leased.
“We’re in good shape that way,” he said.
Bowman Properties owner Richard Snowden, who is committed to preserving the historic character of Chestnut Hill, said that while he thinks the project should be smaller, he holds Young in “high regard” as a developer. He feels the neighborhood should trust him, he said.
“We are very fortunate that Michael Young is building this because he has been a friend of the Chestnut Hill Business Association and Northwest Philadelphia for his entire life,” Snowden said.
Snowden also called the location “important” and “a gateway to the business district.”
Anne McNiff, executive director of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, said her organization “stands ready to assist in bringing the parties involved together to discuss any questions or concerns.
“I hope that Mr. Young’s company and the professionals involved will work closely with near neighbors to limit the impact of the development on their businesses or homes,” McNiff said in a statement to the Local.
The property, which fronts Germantown Avenue, has been vacant since October 2021. In addition to housing Santander Bank, it also housed Palladio, a custom framing shop that has since moved to the corner of Germantown Avenue and Evergreen Street, next door to Kitchen Capers.
Young is part of the ownership group that recently completed two twin towers with large digital advertisements on the 1100 block of Market Street in Center City. The Towers, which are called The Girard and The Ludlow, include an Iron Hill Brewery, a TJ Maxx and an AT&T store on the ground floor. Above them both are 560 living units.