Chew Ave apartment plan delayed as Bass, neighbors voice opposition

by Patrick Cobbs
Posted 1/7/21

Developers of a proposed 37-unit apartment building on Chew Avenue have delayed plans to present their case to the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustments as Eighth District City Councilperson, …

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Chew Ave apartment plan delayed as Bass, neighbors voice opposition

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Developers of a proposed 37-unit apartment building on Chew Avenue have delayed plans to present their case to the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustments as Eighth District City Councilperson, Cindy Bass, came out in opposition to the proposal.

“It was a ‘no’ from me from the start,” Bass said. “I didn’t think it was a good use of the space at that location, especially the size and scope.”

The planned four-story development at 6717 Chew Ave. had been scheduled for a ZBA hearing Jan. 6 to consider three zoning variances needed to move the project forward, but the developers, Audax Properties of Doylestown, instead requested a continuance, a procedural delay that postpones the zoning hearing.

The proposed project would tear down an abandoned auto repair shop and clean up the environmentally contaminated lot that sits directly in front of a public pool and next to Pleasant Playground. It would also add a structure that, at 38-feet in height, many have said would be too big for the setting.

 “It would be taking away from the air space for the pool and playground,” Bass said.

The current plan shows parking spaces for the building right up to the lot line shared with the patio surrounding the public pool. People who use the pool have worried that the large building would also cast shade into the pool during the summer. And neighbors on Vernon Road fear the sidewall of the structure would tower oppressively over the backs of their homes.

A Facebook petition to oppose the project appeared recently, and on Jan. 2, at least 10 people braved the cold to demonstrate against the project in front of the city recreation center that is also very close to the site.

In December, a community meeting held virtually by East Mt Airy Neighbors convinced that organization to officially oppose the plan at the ZBA. Many neighbors expressed specific concerns over the project in that meeting.

Developer, John Thomas, said then that his company would be open to supporting neighborhood priorities, especially at Pleasant Playground, but he expressed no flexibility on the overall design of the building, saying that the cost of environmental cleanup would be too great to allow for a smaller building. In a vote at that meeting, 129 people opposed the plan, while nine were in favor.

EMAN’s reasons for opposing the plan, laid out in a letter to the ZBA, range from claims that rest on zoning issues, to concerns about traffic and pedestrian safety, to a belief that the project does not fit the character of the neighborhood.

Still, many have expressed a desire to see something on the site instead of weeds and a broken-down structure.

“For this property in particular—it is a blighted lot—a lot of people would like to see something there,” said East Mt. Airy Neighbors Zoning Committee Co-Chair Cassie Lukasiewicz. “But I think they would like to see something smaller in size that would complement the playground better.”

Lukasiewicz hopes the developer’s decision to postpone the ZBA hearing is a signal that Audax and neighbors will sit down soon for a more fruitful negotiation over what could happen at 6717 Chew Ave.

“It really needs a bit of negotiating from both parties,” Lukasiewicz said. “It takes the developer and neighbors both hearing each other’s side and coming to some kind of compromise.”

Bass said a key first step to this negotiation process is for nearby neighbors and EMAN to come up with alternatives and specific recommendations that the developer can consider.

Lukasiewicz said key considerations for neighbors include more on-site parking, so residents of the building would not clog the street-side, a smaller building with green space on the lot, so building residents aren’t only using the community playground as their personal yard, and an active way for the development to support the playground.

“People in Mt Airy enjoy their green space,” she said.

Representatives of Audax Properties did not respond to requests for comment.

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