Mt. Airy may soon see a new Aldi grocery store on the intersection of Germantown Avenue and Hortter Street. Proposed as the ground-level retail anchor for a $20 million, 100,000-square-foot housing complex, the German discount grocer would sit below 67 apartments and a green roof.
But while Aldi, with its no-bag policy and thematic “special buy” sales, has become something of a cult favorite, the proposal from developer Glenn Falso Jr. is staring down a familiar foe: nearby residents concerned about parking.
The five-story building, which will largely front on Hortter Street, includes 52 underground parking spaces, but only 12 are reserved for residents. The rest are meant for customers of the 25,000-square-foot Aldi store.
Neighbors have aired their concerns about parking at neighborhood meetings, in discussions with the developer, and at a recent hearing before the city’s Civic Design Review committee, which provides non-binding advice on Philadelphia’s largest developments.
“Our major concern was the impact this project would have on parking and congestion in the immediate neighborhood,” said Steve Kendall, a representative of West Mt. Airy Neighbors, speaking at the Civic Design Review hearing. “It is difficult to believe there would not be serious parking congestion on the adjacent resident streets if a portion of the parking is dedicated to grocery store customers.”
Falso said he is well aware of neighborhood objections to the parking garage proposal and that he will provide close to one-for-one parking slightly off-site. The developer has purchased 21,000 square feet of mostly vacant land where he plans to provide 90 to 100 parking spaces for residents in a two-tiered garage.
“I knew going into this that I had to provide parking to make everyone happy,” said Falso, who is the president of Mainstreet Development Company, based in suburban Blue Bell. “I spent almost $2 million acquiring parcels around the perimeter because I know parking is near-and-dear to them in that area.”
But some neighbors remain skeptical. Nathanial Holt told officials at the Civic Design Review hearing that the project’s scale rendered the notification requirements insufficient. Under city rules, only neighbors in a 250-foot radius got letters alerting them about the design review. He said that many community members considered the process a symptom of “invasive gentrification.”
Falso insists his project will be good for the neighborhood. The nearest major grocery store is an Acme about a half mile away. Vacant storefronts dot the blocks around the intersection where the developer wants to build.
Falso argues that his development will bring dozens of new residents to the area. Three-quarters of the new units will be two-bedroom apartments and the rest a mix of one-bedroom and three-bedroom units, according to the latest plans. Rents will be between $1,400 and $2,100 a month, he said.
“Anyone with half a brain should be coming to Mt. Airy,” said Falso. “I think this will be the first of many great projects for the neighborhood. With any development, people will cry gentrification, but in my estimation you have two types of neighborhoods: those people move to and those people move out of.”
The main building does not need the blessing of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, as it is zoned CMX-2, a designation that is meant to encourage density and mixed-use businesses on neighborhood commercial corridors like Germantown Avenue. There are no parking requirements in a CMX-2 zone.
Falso plans to make use of two zoning bonuses to add to the density and height of the building. One is a bonus for projects that incorporate green roofs and the other, for projects include fresh food markets. He said that under the rules of the bonuses he could legally fit another 13 units beyond the 67 he intends to build — a point that likely doesn’t please residents critical of current site plans.
The building will feature a “zen garden,” Falso said, in addition to the green roof. Another possible addition to the building is a green wall inscribed with the Aldi name in vegetation.
Falso will need approval from the ZBA to create the 90 to 100 parking spaces he plans for his adjoining lots. But that project is distinct from the main apartment building and will go through a separate regulatory process. He will also need to return to the Civic Design Review committee.