By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer
Following a contentious Dec. 10 public hearing, the Abington Zoning Commission held a conditional use hearing to establish terms for the development of Bernie’s, a proposed bar-restaurant at the intersection of Wharton Road and Highland Avenue in Glenside, on Jan. 8.
After the original five-hour hearing, the commission passed approval of rezoning with an 8–7 majority, allowing Bernie’s to be developed despite misgivings from locals about the effect it might have on the neighborhood. Though no less heated, the debate continued into the conditional use hearing with residents making their concerns known.
Robert Eyre, the president of the Greater Glenside Civic Association and de facto representative of local residents, laid out for the commission and developers at Duke Real Estate what the citizens wanted. The main concern seemed to be the “unenforceability and ambiguity of a family-style restaurant” label, he said.
The developers originally pitched Bernie’s as a “family-style” establishment, though residents believed, with the service of alcohol and hours of operation going until 2 a.m., it would be more of a drinking destination.
Longtime resident of the immediate area, Theresa Deckebach, raised concerns about drunken drivers, citing the safety of the many children in the neighborhood.
“I do not want them driving down our street,” she said.
Kim Martin, a resident who spoke at the first meeting as well, suggested limiting business hours with an earlier closing time Sunday to Thursday, to remedy some of these concerns.
Eyre also suggested several solutions. A “good neighbor review,” where residents could meet with the developers to voice opinions regularly after the opening, seemed to be his main push.
All of these suggestions were thwarted by Marc Jonas, the lawyer representing Duke Real Estate, who said the developers would not accept any conditions that put a “stranglehold” on the business.
“Concerns are not evidence,” he said, claiming that speculative notions should not deny the developers a chance to make good on their family-style claim.
Ultimately, the commission passed the conditional use application with a 9–6 vote, only after a few concessions were made by the developers.
Patrons will not be allowed to dine or drink in the outside seating area after 11 p.m., and developers will have to work with the Abington Shade Tree Commission to plant additional landscape buffering outside Bernie’s.
The township will also be given mobile contact numbers for onsite managers for any needed communication. Additionally, 24-hour operation is not permitted and there will be a designated smoking area on the south side of the building.
The final land development plan was approved, but some commissioners remained unhappy with the decision.
“I’m not going to have people come in here and change our laws,” Abington Commissioner Dennis Zappone said. “It’s just not right.”
Ward 12 Commissioner Thomas Farren, who had been in close contact with citizens, worried that placing restrictions on this business may be “hamstringing” development, but in the end sided with present residents.
“I’ve got to vote no,” he said after lengthy consideration.
Commissioner Steven Kline voted in favor of Duke Real Estate, commenting that “any further restrictions set a tone” of negativity for future development.
The zoning commission will now have 45 days to submit findings to the applicant to iron out any further details, but development plans are well in place.
“The nature of this restaurant has been characterized in many different ways,” Eric Kretchman, the owner of Bernie’s and onetime Abington commissioner, said. “But we certainly don’t want to become a nuisance.”