Apartment building, Mexican restaurant proposed for Top of Hill

by DB Fromm
Posted 2/24/21

On Tuesday, Feb. 16 the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee heard from the developers of an apartment building at 10 Bethlehem Pike, and addressed concerns surrounding plans for a Mexican restaurant at 8612 Germantown Avenue.

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Apartment building, Mexican restaurant proposed for Top of Hill

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On Tuesday, Feb. 16 the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee heard from the developers of an apartment building at 10 Bethlehem Pike, the former Sunoco; and addressed concerns surrounding plans for a Mexican restaurant at 8612 Germantown Avenue, the former site of Hideaway Music. 

Architect Sergio Coscia, of Coscia Moos Architecture, presented two possible designs for the apartment building planned by brothers Max and Zach Frankel, of Frankel Enterprises. One option would see 34 one and two bedroom apartments in a 46 foot, nine inch tall building constructed “as-of-right” - not expected to require any variances, with a commercial ground floor set partially below grade.

The second option, preferred by the developers, would also feature 34 apartments, but a 58-foot tall building. The extra height would allow for nine covered parking spaces at an at-grade ground level, additional terraces, and a slightly larger pedestrian plaza at the corner shared with Santander Bank. The commercial space would be smaller but feature higher ceilings.

Both plans include a roof deck at roughly the highest point in the city. Both options take advantage of bonuses to build additional apartments and a taller building than otherwise allowed. Including a “green” roof, to absorb rainwater and help cool the building, allows for a 25% density bonus. Under a “payment-in-lieu” option, instead of including affordable units, they will contribute to the city’s Housing Trust Fund, adding seven feet to the maximum height.

Both schemes would set the building back ten feet from the neighboring Chestnut Hill Baptist Church, and obscure the two rearmost of its eight sanctuary windows. The Church was, apparently, not represented at the meeting.

Other neighbors raised concerns about additional parking and congestion burdens, whether the materials and scale of the building fit the historic neighborhood, and light and privacy impacts on the immediately adjacent Summit St. neighbor. Some participants also wondered what type of tenant would occupy the commercial space, if any, given existing vacancies on Germantown Avenue.

Ultimately, the developers seemed most receptive to making alterations if the community would greenlight the taller plan.

Before considering another project at 30 W. Highland Ave., covered separately in this issue, the DRC heard comments regarding a variance requested by local property owner Sanjiv Jain. Jain is seeking to place El Limon Taqueria, a local, small-chain Mexican restaurant, in his building next to the currently-shuttered Newsstand. El Limon has a location at 810 Bethlehem Pike in Flourtown.

The proposal has already received an endorsement from the CHCA Board for presentation in his appeal to the Zoning Board of Adjustment, but the issue was reopened due to reports of inadequate notice and consultation with near neighbors. Concerns about the restaurant included plans to utilize the Chestnut Hill Parking Foundation lot behind the building for parking and waste management, and whether it is the most appropriate site given Jain owns other vacant commercial spaces along the Avenue.

Jain expressed willingness to discuss outstanding issues, and the DRC invited him and those concerned to meet separately in advance of the CHCA Board meeting Thursday, Feb. 25. The Board will reconsider the issue and vote on whether to send it back to the DRC.

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