ZBA approves 540 W. Moreland subdivision

by Walt Maguire
Posted 8/11/21

On August 4 the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustments approved a variance on 540 W. Moreland St. that had failed to win support from any of the CHCA review committees or the surrounding neighbors.

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ZBA approves 540 W. Moreland subdivision

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To the surprise of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, neighbors, and Councilperson Cindy Bass’s office, on August 4 the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustments approved a variance on 540 W. Moreland St. that had failed to win support from any of the CHCA review committees or the surrounding neighbors.

On May 8, the owners presented a plan to the CHCA Design Review Committee to subdivide the property, restoring the historic main house on the rear lot.  At this time the owners said they had no plans for the front property (i.e., the existing front lawn). At the CHCA Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee meeting on June 4, the proposed division was opposed by the committee on the grounds that it provided no information on plans for the new lot, nor architectural details for restoration of the existing main house. Lawyer Vern Anastasio, representing the owners, said there were no plans to develop the lot “as of today.”

Several neighbors attending the meeting said their main concern was the sight lines of the new lot and what might be built there. The house was the kitchen and service wing of the Keewaydin Estate until the estate was subdivided in 1948. It is zoned as RSD-1, single-family residence. It was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 2019, and purchased later that year by Ganos LLC.

A variance had been requested because the Philadelphia Department of License and Inspection had rejected a proposal to sub-divide, noting the minimum lot width is 75 feet and the new driveway for the rear property would be a proposed 15 feet. When questioned how the new width was determined, Anastasio said it was the client’s “preference.”

The committee suggested it might be too early to consider a variance, since no plans were presented for the new lot. It was opposed by the committee by a unanimous 5-0 vote.

At their June 15 meeting, the DRC rejected the proposal on a unanimous 5-0 vote. The same issues and objections raised earlier were still not addressed: no plans presented for the front lot and concerns about setting a precedent for issuing a variance without clearly defined reasons.

On June 23, the CHCA Board of Directors unanimously voted against supporting the variance, based on the recommendations from the earlier meetings.

The ZBA did not let the CHCA present their objections at the August 4 hearing.

John Landis, Co-Chair of the CHCA DRC, commented, “First, why even have RCOs, if after querying developers to identify the adverse impacts of proposed projects—which, after all, is why RCOs were established—they are not allowed to verbally present their findings and concerns? The ZBA is under no obligation to agree with an RCO’s recommendations, but it should at least be obliged to hear them out.”

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