CDR board continues hearing on Germantown Church Lane project

by Tom Beck
Posted 9/14/23

Philadelphia’s Civic Design Review committee voted unanimously in favor of continuing its hearing on 42-68 Church Lane.

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CDR board continues hearing on Germantown Church Lane project


Philadelphia’s Civic Design Review committee voted unanimously in favor of continuing its hearing on 42-68 Church Lane, giving neighborhood residents one more opportunity to provide feedback on the building’s design at the next scheduled CDR meeting set for Oct. 3 at 1 p.m. The most recent version of the five-story proposal includes 125 residential units, 93 parking spaces and two commercial spaces on the ground floor. The site was formerly occupied by a building materials company. 

Issues related to parking, sidewalks and the building’s courtyard were among the Philadelphia City Planning Commission’s primary design concerns. The underground parking garage contains two “dead end points” with “challenging turnaround zones,” PCPC staffer Katherine Liss said at the meeting. She also noted that the Church Lane sidewalk was “tight,” which could be improved by increasing the building’s 10-foot setback.

The purpose of all CDR meetings is for development teams to hear feedback from the community and the CDR board about the proposal’s aesthetics. Concerns residents voiced in the public comment portion of the hearing, however, were mostly in relation to the building’s size and the parking issues that will come with it.

“I'm really worried about the way that the height of this is going to block out all the sunlight in my yard,” said one resident, Elizabeth Fullerton-Dummit, who lives on the block. “And I’m very concerned for the neighborhood about parking. There's not enough spots.”

Another neighbor on the block, Jim Dragoni, told the CDR committee that the new building would “tower over” the other houses on the block.

“Behind the building is a tree line and some beautiful old stone walls, and some very ancient picturesque…architectural treasures,” Dragoni added. “We won't be able to see any of that with this building going up.”

Yvonne Haskins, an attorney who represented neighbors in prior meetings about this issue, told the board that more than 1,100 residents have signed a petition stating their opposition to the proposal. 

“There's been almost unanimous opposition,” she said.

Michael Johns, chair of the CDR board, called the site “tough and challenging” due to its location in such a historic part of Germantown and neighbors’ opposition toward it.

“When there is such a huge amount of concerns about opposition to a project,” he said, “it always gives me pause.”

His sentiment was echoed by other board members 

“It's a shame when we show up to these things and there's just this outpouring of tension with the community,” said another member of the CDR board, Ashley DiCaro. “You have to kind of agree that this is a larger scale project than the surrounding properties.”

In April of this year, the development team, which is led by Olympia Holdings, responded to neighbors' concerns by cutting the number of units from 148 to 125 and increasing the number of parking spaces from 74 to 93. It also added a 10-foot setback to the Church Lane-facing side of the building. There had previously been no setback. 

“We just thought this was a reasonable compromise of providing a lot of parking spaces, but also providing a nice experience at the Church Lane street level for pedestrians and then also for the building residents as well,” the development team’s architect, Kevin O’Neill, said at a subsequent meeting in June. 

Because the CDR board is only advisory, it is ultimately powerless to prevent the project from being built. Because the proposal needs variances from the zoning code to be constructed, however, residents will also have the opportunity to be a part of the project’s hearing in front of the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment. Variances Olympia is seeking are mostly related to the proposal’s lack of buffering between it and adjacent properties, but also for its use as a residential building in a parcel zoned only for industrial use. The proposal is scheduled to go before the zoning board on Dec. 6.