Chestnut HIll college's St. Joseph's Hall

by Jennifer Katz

Chestnut Hill College made history last week when its controversial Institutional Development District designation, as amended, passed the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, marking a first for the neighborhood and the city.

At its May 17 hearing, the college introduced an extensive amendment to its IDD legislation (bill No. 110302), which restricts development of its campuses to a minimum of a standard IDD.

“Chestnut Hill College’s IDD limits development to a detailed envelope dramatically less than what an IDD allows,” said Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for economic development and chairman of the planning commission.

The first-of-its-kind amendment is the result of months of negotiations with the community over the college’s application to rezone its two campuses. The amendment represents a compromise between the community, the college and the city to provide protections for the community while allowing the college to develop the SugarLoaf Hill campus according to its approved master plan.

According to the amendment, the college has agreed that the IDD for the two properties comprising its campus will meet several unique criteria. The minimum acres of contiguous property must be 30 acres (the standard is 3 acres).

The maximum gross floor area (normally 400 percent of the site) for all buildings will not exceed 48.5 percent or 925,000 square feet on the north side of Germantown Avenue between Northwestern and Hillcrest avenues (main campus) and 38 percent or 500,000 square feet on the south side of Germantown Avenue between Northwestern Avenue and Bells Mill Road (SugarLoaf Hill campus).

“From our point of view, the amended IDD and master plan accomplishes the limitations the community is interested in and what the college will agree to,” Greenberger said.

The college’s IDD also spells out the compromise between the development of the site and adherence to the Wissahickon Watershed ordinance, defining its storm water management obligations and scope of development on previously disturbed steep slopes.

Greenberger said the city was less concerned with the Wissahickon Watershed restrictions, preferring more recent storm water management protections.

“The Wissahickon Watershed ordinance is decades old,” he said. “Storm water management theory and techniques have evolved greatly since then. I’m confident the current regulations improve upon the WWO regulation and will provide the right result to protect the area.”

Robert Vance, president of the board for Friends of the Wissahickon, remains uneasy about the impact of development on the watershed. He said FOW’s support of the college’s plan is contingent on preservation easements for the majority of the SugarLoaf site.

“We need a mechanism that ensures the majority of the property remains undeveloped and won’t disturb the watershed,” Vance said.

Vance said the FOW would accept preservation easements, which hinge on the college’s lenders approval or some other equally stringent protection or assurance from the college that would treat the undeveloped property (approximately 87 percent of the site) as eased for an extended period of time.

The college’s IDD legislation moves to City Council’s Rules Committee on June 7 and could be up for final passage by June 16.