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Neighbors, Business Square Off

Herbiary and local residents bring their misunderstanding to the Design Review Committee

Conflcit and confusion were key aspects of a dispute between the Herbiary, a property at 133 E. Mermaid Lane, and several neighbors at a recent Design Review Committee Meeting in Chestnut Hill.

Maia Toll and Andrew Celwyn own the Herbiary, an alternative merdicine shop, which has two other locations at 7721 Germantown Avenue and in Reading Terminal, along with he Mermaid Lane location. The latter consists of several  garages used for teaching classes, although no sales take place there.

Starting in September, the start of the new class year at the Herbiary, several neighbors including the ones on either side of the property have taken issue with the use of the garage for such classes, claiming that it is an illegal use of the space.

According to Toll, the largest class is about 20 students, which takes place once a month, and other classes are smaller and take place about five times a month. Neighbors claim that because the property is located just behind their own property, disruptive noise and a stream of strangers is causing an invasion of privacy and eating away parking during class times.

The use variance currently on the property allowed for five apartments and a business. Illegal changes were made without a new variance being requested, and there are now six apartments, two of which stand where the  businesses offices once did.

Toll and Celwyn requested an updated variance through Licenses and Inspections for the current setup once complaints started to pour in from neighbors, but it was refused for reasons that neither Toll, Celweyn or DRC members could understand. Toll and Celweyn were in attendance to ask the DRC for support for a new variance.

However, members of the DRC were confused about the grounds for refusal by L and I and were uncertain of the legailty of that kind of business operating out of a garage.

Kristopher Jacobson, a near neighbor of the property for over twenty years, spoke on behalf of opponents of the business.

“We do not believe this business should be allowed at all,” Jacobson said when asked by board members if it was the way the business operated that bothered him. It is the legality of the use that is being debated, he said.

Communication between the opposing parties has been limited to email and letters. Jacobson and the opposition refuse to speak to the owners until they have ceased to conduct business.

Not all neighbors were against the Herbiary. “These people are quiet and peaceful,” said John Houston, a near neighbor, about the classes. “It’s just a peaceful, loving, economy-stimulating event.”

The DRC took no formal position in the debate, but called for attorneys versed in zoning law and the owner of the property, Elllen Deacon, to be present for future discussions.

However, committee member John Landis told Toll and Celwyn that he felt that there was a chance that their use would be found as unacceptable and that they should have an alternative plan just in case.

“It sounds like you’re on thin ice even if its not your fault,” Landis said.

Landis also called the two parties to meet face to face on their own time. “Let’s have a little more communication here,” he said.

Sharmil McKee December 29, 2012 at 12:51 PM
We are in a recession, and the neighbors want to shut down a money-making business. Chestnut Hill is up-side-down. The business should take its economy-boosting activity to an area that would appreciate it, like Mount Airy.
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