September 24, 2009


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DRC hears CH College master plan

Chestnut Hill College brought its master plan proposal to the Development Review Committee last week, taking the first step toward obtaining an Institutional Development District designation.

Peter Saylor, a Chestnut Hill resident and principal with SaylorGregg architects, made the presentation to the committee and a roomful of attendees at Chestnut Hill Hospital.

“The college’s target is to get to 1,500 undergraduate students,” Saylor said.

The presentation included plans to build a secondary hilltop campus on the Sugarloaf site, featuring a series of mixed-use buildings on top of underground parking structures. The plans for the site would preserve a 90-foot border around the Sugarloaf property.

“The space has been dedicated back to the state as part of the green space initiative,” Saylor said. “It will never be built on and will maintain the same appearance.”

The DRC meeting was the first step toward obtaining the necessary community approval for its plan before heading to City Council for the IDD designation. The college parcels are currently zoned R1 and R2, requiring a variance each time building is to occur. The IDD designation would bind the college to the master plan but would not require a separate zoning variance for each building.

There is one major exception to the IDD permissions. The college’s property is within the Wissahickon Watershed District, which would require the college to come before the CHCA committees and the Zoning Hearing Board if certain criteria are impacted by any of the construction.

These criteria are related to pervious/impervious coverage, steep slope development, storm water management and floodway/floodplain development.

“The community would be involved only if the watershed district requirements are triggered,” said Larry McEwen, co-chair of the DRC.  “Otherwise, only if in 10 years the college sees changing needs would it come back to the community.”

According to Saylor, the plan prepared for the IDD process shows a slightly larger footprint for the buildings so “there is a little wiggle room.”

“None of these buildings have been designed yet,” he said. “The plan just shows fundamentally the positions, roads, etc.”

Chuck Broadbent, who lives on W. Bells Mill Road, questioned the college on its plans for the Greenfield Mansion, the only building that will remain from the current Sugarloaf campus. Broadbent complained that the previous owner, Temple University, rented out the facilities so often the noise from weddings and parties was heard practically every weekend and was unbearable.

“If we are going to be kept awake at night,” he said. “We are going to be very unhappy.”

Sister Carol Jean Vale, president of the college, struck a compassionate and cooperative tone when responding to the concern. The college is in the process of restoring the historic mansion, which it will keep and use for events.

“We would hope to use the mansion for social events,” she said. “It is my intention that no music would be piped outside. We would have to experiment to see what works and try to do something before we open it up to see how sound travels. I know I myself cannot stand loud music, so I am very sympathetic.”

Those in attendance at the meeting, including residents and committee members, kept coming back to the main question. If the college is successful in obtaining the IDD, would there be any opportunity for the neighbors or the community to address issues. As one resident put it, “things will change over 25 years, unforeseen things happen, the devil is in the details.”

In light of the concerns raised, Saylor summarized the college’s position.

“It’s an interesting challenge to the community and the business community in particular,” he said. “Chestnut Hill may become a college town more than anyone thought of it ever before.”

The DRC requested that the college meet with the CHCA’s Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee, its Traffic, Transportation and Parking Committee, as well as its Aesthetics Committee and the Historical Commission. The members also requested that the college have the Northwest representative from the City Planning Commission come to the next DRC meeting.

Saylor said the college was prepared to attend any and all meetings and would provide further details at each subsequent meeting as they pertain to each specific committee.

Before the meeting adjourned, longtime Chestnut Hill resident Carol Franklin spoke on the college’s merits.

“I want everybody to remember that this community has preserved the Wissahickon through these institutions,” she said. “Chestnut Hill College, Morris Arboretum, the Woodmere Art Museum, Carson Valley and Erdenheim Farm have preserved the only open space we have.

“The fundamental quality of life in this community is related to the Wissahickon corridor. That site (Sugarloaf) was proposed for 35 houses. Let’s keep things in perspective.”