The city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously denied the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s appeal of a building permit issued to developers seeking to build a 33-unit apartment complex at 10 W. Bethlehem Pike, clearing the way for a proposal heavily opposed by residents.
The city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously denied the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s appeal of a building permit issued to developers seeking to build a five story, 33-unit apartment complex with nine parking spots at 10 W. Bethlehem Pike, clearing the way for the proposal which was heavily opposed by residents to be constructed by right.
Councilmember Cindy Bass called the outcome “extremely disappointing.”
“The ZBA was given a lot of information which could have helped our residents in more ways than one,” said Bass in an emailed statement to the Local. “A denial of the residents' appeal is a prime example of why we need to ensure our communities are an active part in what is happening around their homes. In the future, we will continue our efforts to have the voices of our community heard.”
The civic association’s core argument was that the permit was issued in error by the city because the developer failed to propose a building with a 35 foot setback, something it felt the zoning code stipulated.
A developer on the civic’s legal team, Josh Horvitz, cited part of the city code that read the following: “Where any block frontage on one side of a street is divided into two or more districts, no structure shall be erected nearer to the street line than is permitted under the regulations for the district that covers the largest percentage of the street frontage on that block face.”
Because the proposal fronts on Bethlehem Pike but also Summit Street, the civic’s legal team argued, it shall not be erected nearer to the street line than 35 feet because RSD-1, which mandates a 35 foot minimum front setback from the street, makes up the largest percentage of that block’s zoning.
The developer’s legal team, led by Carl Primavera, argued that the appeal was “really an attempt to defeat the project.”
“That's why, in my opinion, they're torturing the language [of the zoning code] or twisting it in a way, as good lawyers do, to come to a certain result,” Primavera said. “If we apply the setbacks, we lose, like, 25 percent of the lot and the project, if it can be done, can only be done in a way which is really not good for the developer.”
Janice Woodcock, principal of Woodcock Design, testified on behalf of the developer.
“When I listened to the [civic’s legal team],” she said, “what I heard was picking certain provisions out of the zoning code without understanding how they all relate.”
Woodcock disputed that there was any frontage on Summit Street and said that the setback would have had to apply to a front yard, which sites zoned CMX-2 don’t have.
“They've taken a diagram out of the zoning code and tried to call Summit Street a front yard when in fact it's not a front yard,” she said. “CMX-2 does not require setbacks because the purpose of that zoning classification is to promote street frontage and to support commercial districts.”
Bass also chimed in to support the community at the hearing.
“I'm asking that your decision today [is to] really stand with the neighbors, stand with the community, stand with the folks who live there and that we make the best decision, which is really going to minimize impact on the quality of life in this community,” she said. “We really want to make sure that even in projects that are by right that there are things done which are not going to decrease the quality of life for those who have lived there through thick and thin, who have really held the neighborhood together.”
Neighbors who disapproved of the project spoke to concerns with the aesthetics, the lack of what they feel is sufficient parking and the density.
In a Local article from October, CHCA executive director Anne McNiff told the Local that community members feel the size of the project would be “very detrimental to that location.”
“It's right as you're coming into Chestnut Hill,” she said. “It was really a hardship to the neighbors and the church.”
The Chestnut Hill Baptist Church, built in 1834 and designated to the city’s Register of Historic Places in 1973, is a mere 10 feet from where the property would be built.
“The Baptist Church is a historic landmark,” said McNiff, “and the highest point in Chestnut Hill.”
The CHCA, not giving up on its fight against the development, said it’s currently working with Summit Street Neighbors and the Chestnut Hill Baptist Church to “determine what the communities next steps will be” in the aftermath of the appeal’