Neighbors Coming Around to Towering Germantown Ave. Project

They fought the zoning, the density, the size, and the impact of the construction process. But four years after the battles began over 8200 Germantown Avenue, the immediate neighbors are mainly at peace with what they will soon have.

The $30 million project that includes a Fresh Market, additional retail space along the avenue, and 17 condominiums on the four floors above the stores are scheduled to be completed by March 2016. The market may be open as soon as this fall.

Will Detwiler, board president of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, said he hasn't heard complaints about the construction or other issues related to the site in recent months.

Residents remember when the block was home to the Magarity Ford dealership, and its car repair shop had bays opening onto Hartwell Lane. "They'd be out there with machinery all day long. We were living five blocks away at the time, and we could hear it," Detwiler said. "People came to realize there was a more desirable alternative."

Court Battles

The car dealership closed in 2008, and the building stood vacant for several years, turning into an eyesore on Chestnut Hill's commercial corridor. When Bowman Propertries proposed a retail and residential complex on the site, nearby residents raised objections to the plans.

They formed the Adjacent Neighbors Association and challenged zoning legislation that allowed the mixed-use project. They lost that fight.

But they gained concessions from developer Richard Snowden on the building's footprint and height, building materials, and other aspects that would affect their quality of life, including the way the construction work would be conducted.

The neighbors stayed engaged throughout the planning stages of the building, Detwiler said. "The facades are going up now, and I think they can see it's quality stuff."

Still Too Big

The neighbors along Hartwell Lane live in modest, two-story row homes or the few single houses farther down the lane. Their front gardens are well tended. Flowering baskets, window boxes, and wind chimes hang from the porches.

A resident of Hartwell who asked that she only be identified as Maria has mixed feelings about the project across the street from her home. "I participated in the community meetings prior to the construction, and I was not on the winning side," she said.

She likes what she sees of the design and construction materials so far. "I think it will be as attractive as it possibly could be, because Richard Snowden has excellent taste," Maria said. "In my opinion, though, it's too big, too much," and the scale of the building doesn't fit the rest of Germantown Avenue.

She is also concerned about the effects of the project's housing units, and how services for the new residents will impact the neighbors on Hartwell Lane.

She has no complaints about the way construction has been managed, however. "The workers start promptly at 7 a.m., and rarely do they work late into the evening," Maria said. "They haven't been too disruptive. And they're working on the interior now, so we don't see them."

Another Hartwell neighbor, Daniel Wasser, and his wife moved into their house a year ago, and they like the economic implications of the project. They believe the new market will raise the property values of their block. And they're hoping it will be a place to find affordable food.

They have had problems with the amount of dust caused by the construction. And Wasser's wife, a veterinarian who works late, has had trouble finding parking spots when she gets home. They are worried that parking — a big issue for the neighbors — is going to get worse when the businesses across the street are in operation.

Plans to reverse the flow of one-way Hartwell Lane, which currently runs from the avenue toward Pastorius Park, will be a benefit, Wasser believes. Many drivers use Hartwell as a cross street from the main corridor, he said, so the change will be welcome.

A Healthy Avenue

Detwiler noted that there are also plans for a new traffic light at the intersection of Germantown and Hartwell, which will calm the speeding cars and trucks on that part of the thoroughfare.

As for parking, Detwiler said the developer has made plans for all employees of the market to park offsite. Underground parking is being built for residents of the new condos.

The market and the adjacent stores will be "good for the avenue," Detwiler said. Other merchants along Germantown will benefit from the new businesses, and "it will have a spinoff effect, with more night life and nice landscaping. It will help get things moving on the avenue. As the health of the avenue goes, so goes the health of whole community."

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