It appears that a real estate company has a few more hoops to jump through before it gets a zoning recommendation for a proposed development next to Acme on Germantown Avenue.
Iron Stone Strategic Capital Partners Managing Director Andrew Eisenstein presented the West Mt. Airy Neighbors (WMAN) zoning committee with his latest plan for a property at 7048 Germantown Ave. on Wednesday at Summit Presbyterian Church. He went drawing by drawing, showcasing the 32 units that would built if the plan goes through.
The development, which would be built upon the former site of the Garrett-Dunn House historic home, would contain two buildings with five units each, three buildings with four units each and a front building with 10 condominiums.
The Garrett-Dunn House was designed in the 1850s and was on the National and Philadelphia Registers of Historic Places. It was, however, destroyed by a fire in August 2009 after a lightning storm.
Efforts had been underway to build condominiums on the site before the fire before they fell through.
Now it's a vacant lot. Iron Stone has come before the zoning committee several times now because it needs a variance in order to build the development. The property is now zoned for a commercial building, and a variance would allow real estate to be built there.
The committee doesn't have final say over the matter, but it can make a favorable or unfavorable recommendation to the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment. That body will make the ultimate decision on the variance.
It's still not clear what the WMAN committee will decide. Its members—and a couple of concerned nearby residents—did agree that Iron Stone's most recent plan was better than ones they had previously seen. Resident Dan Winterstein, who lives adjacent to the site on Mt. Pleasant Avenue, said the buildings look more attractive in the latest drawings.
But he still said he would like there to be a larger area between his property and the development. Right now, the plan includes parking spots in front of the buildings, and Winterstein suggested that those be removed and that cars parallel park on a private street adjacent to the buildings.
Eisenstein shot that idea down.
"We're not building parallel parking," he said. Any development that requires its residents to park on an adjacent street like that isn't generally successful, according to Eisenstein.
But he—along with architect Gabrielle Canno—said that they could potentially look at extending the planned 14 foot setback between the buildings and the Mt. Pleasant yards to 15 feet. Winterstein said he was a bit more satisfied with that idea than with the one floated in original plan.
Winterstein also said he hoped some landscaping—like trees—could be incorporated into the site as well to create more privacy. Eisenstein said he would work with the neighbors to make that happen.
Committee members also expressed concern the houses could stick out like a sore thumb.
"There's no way they fit into the character of Mt. Airy," member Morrie Zimmerman said.
The committee's chair, Ralph Pinkus, shared Zimmerman's concern, saying he didn't want the houses to appear like flat, ugly boxes. Because of that, he suggested Iron Stone adjust its plan to allow for some architectural diversity in the rear of the buildings so that they have a slightly more appealing and angular character.
Eisenstein said the homes, once built, could sell for about $300,000. Some will be about 2,000 square feet. The buildings will be about three stories each and will be up to 38 feet high.
The Wissahickon EcoVillage co-housing community group has been talking with Eisenstein about using the development as a place where its members could live.
Cohousing, essentially, is a form of living in which a group of people works together to plan the way in which its community functions. Full members, who would pay $1,000 to gain membership, would have a role in the decision-making process surrounding the development, and would utilize a consensus decision-making model in order to make choices that affect the community. That means voting would not take place.
Eisenstein said families that wanted to participate in the cohousing project would buy units individually. If cohousing organizers get more families to sign on, he said, it's more likely the Wissahickon EcoVillage will end up there once the development is built.