CHC reaches out via Zoom to neighbors upset by Sugarloaf construction

by Carla Robinson
Posted 2/11/22

College president Sister Carol Jean Vale opened the meeting with a heartfelt apology for the way neighbors had been informed about the blasting. 

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CHC reaches out via Zoom to neighbors upset by Sugarloaf construction


About 200 people showed up at a Chestnut Hill College community meeting held via Zoom last week to address neighbors’ concerns about the $6.5 million construction project for the new entrance to the Sugarloaf Campus at Hillcrest and Germantown Avenues.

The college convened the meeting to hear from neighbors, who were already upset by the sudden loss of all the familiar trees along that stretch of Germantown Avenue, when they got a letter from a company hired by the demolition contractor asking for permission to inspect their properties, which made neighbors even angier. Surprised, some said they worried that the college was seeking a way to keep them from being able to sue if their houses were damaged by the blasting required for demolition. 

College president Sister Carol Jean Vale opened the meeting with a heartfelt apology for the way neighbors had been informed about the blasting. 

“We had a plan to communicate with the neighbors when we were sadly disrupted by the subcontractor. I apologize deeply for that," Vale said. “We did not see the notice before it was sent, nor did we know of it until after it was received by the neighbors within the required radius.

“I immediately put myself in their place to imagine how I would feel if such a notice came to me at my home. I would have been very upset and would have wanted more information,” she continued. “I can only say that I am deeply sorry the community found out about these plans before they could be properly explained.”

City Councilmember Cindy Bass also attended the meeting, and spoke in defense of concerned neighbors when she said that she found it “extremely troubling” that the  meeting was held so late in the process, adding that she was “not on board” with the project and asked that there be a “time-out, to get it right and “compromise.” 

Vale promised to do that, adding that the college is committed to being a good neighbor. 

The college “spent 18 months working with the community, hundreds and hundreds of hours, and changed the 2008 Master Plan to accommodate the wishes of the community, which is why we have the support for it,” Vale said. “I don’t want it to be thought that we have not collaborated with the community.” 

“Everyone at the College is committed to doing better moving forward,” she said. “Our neighbors and community are important to the College and to me personally. It is our desire to respect and care for their property as well as our own,” she said. 

Bob Shusterman, who heads a non-profit founded that neighbors founded many years ago to respond to previous issues regarding the Sugarloaf property, said that group is planning to fund their own study of how construction will affect the Wissahickon Creek. 

“A lot of the neighbors, through Responsible Preservation Inc., are concerned and are evaluating all options,” he said. 

Bass said she would follow up with Chestnut Hill College (CHC) representatives to be sure the neighbors’ questions were being answered. College representatives who participated in the zoom meeting included Ron Zemnick, a CHC board member who was involved in the purchase, renovation, and development of the Sugarloaf campus and was a member of the original negotiating group. Also participating were interim vice president for financial affairs Robert Wallet, general counsel and chief of staff Christina Abbott, and CHC construction manager Paul Harris.

Zemnick gave a slide show presentation of the project thus far, which included aerial  photos of the excavation that has been completed to date, including two stormwater basins, one of which is temporary. The presentation outlined how the demolition will proceed, what the plans are for landscaping - including a rock wall, and how the entrance will look from different angles of approach. 

They reported clearing trees from a total of two acres, most of which were along the Avenue and not further up the hill. The plan calls for large canopy trees such as maples, beech, tulips, sweet gum, hickory and evergreens to replace them, in addition to hundreds of native shrubs. They are consulting with Morris Arboretum as well as an arborist hired by the neighbors, and planting will start in September. Grass-seeding will be done this spring. 

The college also said that, in response to some neighbor concerns, it had moved the bike and pedestrian path that runs along the site parallel to Germantown Avenue two months ago so that it is further away from homes. 

The project is now about 25 percent complete, according to college spokesman Christopher Spangler. Construction began in November, with the clearing of the steep and wooded land at the place where a new intersection will be located. 

The next phase of the project is to make the “cut” into the hillside that will become the roadway through the property. And that’s where the blasting comes in. 

Tree removal was completed on Dec. 7. The entire project is expected to be complete by the end of 2022.

According to Spangler, the new intersection is called for in CHC’s 2008 Master Plan. It is needed because both of the existing entrances were set at awkward angles to Germantown Avenue, making turns onto the busy roadway unsafe, he said. 

Ultimately, Splanger said, the intersection will be widened and left turn lanes will be added on both Germantown and Hillcrest Avenues. The new intersection will have a full four-way traffic light. 

To view the construction plan visit Carla Robinson can be reached at