On the surface, the debate was about two small, independent auto repair shops, along with an equally modest-sized personal training facility.
But Northeast-based zoning attorney Shawn Ward and City Councilman Brian O’Neill’s zoning specialist, Bob Barilli, seemed to be really arguing over something much, much bigger.
Their exchange during the Feb. 14 meeting of the Somerton Civic Association highlighted competing views on how the city will implement its new zoning code, which Council passed and Mayor Michael Nutter signed into law in December.
It is slated to go into effect in August after Council members and communities have an opportunity to review and assess its practical implications on countless property-use scenarios.
During the Somerton meeting, Ward argued that the auto repair shops and fitness facility should be allowed to lease space in an industrial property on the 10000 block of Sandmayer Lane because the new zoning code will allow both uses.
Barilli countered that the new code has yet to take effect and that changes could be in store before it does. So he opposes letting traditionally commercial uses into industrial space.
The SCA members sided unanimously with Barilli, voting down the use variances sought by Ward on behalf of his clients.
“This land on Sandmeyer Lane will remain in industrial [districts] and it’s not designed for commercial activity,” Barilli said.
Under the existing zoning code, commercial districts generally include retail businesses such as stores, restaurants, hair salons, gas stations and auto repair shops. Industrial districts include warehouse, distribution, manufacturing and other uses.
According to Barilli, auto repair shops were permitted within industrial zones decades ago before City Council passed an ordinance banning them categorically.
Ward argued that the new zoning code slated to take effect on Aug. 22 effectively rescinded the auto repair ban for certain industrial property. The site in question on Sandmeyer Lane is now zoned G-2 (general industrial), but will likely revert to I-2 (industrial) under the new code, he said.
In the new code, I-2 will permit auto repair shops, Ward said.
Barilli doesn’t necessarily agree with Ward’s conclusions. Rather, O’Neill’s aide described the new 438-page code as a document in flux with many changes possible in the coming months, depending on dialogue involving the community, businesses, Council members and the City Planning Commission.
Further, G-2 won’t necessarily translate directly to I-2. Instead, the entire city will undergo a re-zoning process that is expected to take years.
As for the Sandmeyer Lane site specifically, the owner of a neighboring construction supply business spoke against the proposed commercial uses, fearing the client and vendor traffic they would generate.
Ward said that each auto shop would have two car-lifts and two employees, while all employee and customer vehicles would be parked off-street. The trainer, meanwhile, would have two employees and no more than a handful of clients on premises at a time, Ward said.
He questioned the wisdom of forcing auto repair shops into commercial districts in a modern-day environment, when fewer gas stations are doing auto repairs and vice-versa.
“Personally, I’d rather have auto repair in industrial [zones]. I don’t want it next to a bakery. I don’t want it next to a Wawa. Service [gas] stations are a thing of the past,” he said.
In an unrelated zoning issue, Eric Naftulin, executive director of Federation Housing Inc., announced plans to build an addition to the Ephraim Goldstein Apartments, 728 Byberry Road, to house an adult day care center for Federation clients.
Federation serves low- and fixed-income adults age 62 and older. The day care facility will allow Federation residents to “age in place” without having to seek often unaffordable day care elsewhere.
The addition will measure 28 feet by 16 feet and will be oriented toward the rear of the building facing Leo Mall. It will service up to 50 residents a day.
The next Somerton Civic Association meeting will be on Tuesday, March 13, at 7:30 p.m., at Walker Lodge 306, 1290 Southampton Road. ••EndFragment