Easement a sticky issue for Greylock plan

by Tom Beck
Posted 11/22/23

A CHCA meeting to discuss the future of Greylock was postponed by the developer in an attempt to “engage neighbors and listen to their concerns."

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Easement a sticky issue for Greylock plan


A Chestnut Hill Community Association zoning meeting planned for Nov. 16 to discuss the future of Greylock was postponed by the developer in an attempt to “engage neighbors and listen to their concerns about the project,” said the CHCA’s executive director. 

His team is currently scheduled to go before the city’s zoning board on Dec. 13. McNiff said, but his team is seeking a continuance. 

The development team, led by developer Lavi Shenkman, hopes to renovate the mansion into four separate apartments and add two condominium units in the property’s carriage house.

However, he said, to offset the costs of the renovations, his team also plans to build three additional buildings on the rear of the property that borders Lavender Trail – something many neighbors oppose. One of the three new buildings would hold five residential units. The remaining two would both be two-unit twins.

In order to build the project as proposed, the developer would need to obtain variances from the Philadelphia Zoning Code. Perhaps more importantly, however, he would also need amendments to easements held by the Chestnut Hill Conservancy, which is the property’s land trust. 

And that’s the chief concern for many neighbors, including Brad Bank, who is also a member of the Chestnut Hill Landmarks Committee. 

“The precedent that this could set could be devastating,” said Bank. “Changing the easements on this property could set a domino effect for all eased properties.”

Bank contests that no new construction is necessary for the project to be profitable. He cites a former development team’s vision for the property, which would have rehabilitated Greylock and its carriage house but also preserved the open space, as proof. 

An agent for that development team, which was led by Scranton-based developer John Basalyga, said his group stood to make a $3 million to $4 million profit on its plan.

“That’s nothing to sneeze at,” said the agent, Costa Rodriguez. “You have developers who want a 200% to 300% return, and that’s what’s happening here.”

In a phone call, Shenkman declined an opportunity to speak on the record for this story.

In a previous meeting, however, he said that he had “high hopes that we're going to do something that the community can get behind and be proud of.”

Shenkman’s firm, Rhombus Properties, has experience redeveloping historic buildings. Most of its historic work is in Old City. Rhombus’ projects there, Shenkman said, include the National Corn Exchange Bank building at 2nd and Chestnut Streets, the headhouses at Piers 3 and 5 in the Penn’s Landing area, and 27-33 Bank Street, which currently houses a hostel. 

Typically, developments that involve historic properties like this one are reviewed by the Chestnut Hill Conservancy. However, the Conservancy canceled its Nov. 2 meeting for the project citing “threat of litigation and the advice of counsel,” as per its website.

The Conservancy’s executive director, Lori Salganicoff, could not be reached for an on-the-record conversation before the Local’s print deadline.

However, according to the Conservancy’s website, its Conservation and Easements Committee determined that amending the easements to allow Shenkman’s team to build on the eased land “could be viable if acceptable and sufficiently balancing conservation measures can be worked out.”

It’s unclear what those balancing conservation measures could be, but for some nearby residents, it doesn’t matter.

“The owner who donates easements does it for a reason,” Bank said. “That is something that is supposed to be forever, not until an owner feels he needs to make more money or he bought something he did not understand.”

In any case, neighbors like Greylock's neighbor Kimberly Jones are happy that there’s at least some movement on getting the project developed.

“We've had to look at it outside our windows for 17 years now,” she said at a recent public meeting. “So we appreciate that.”

The mansion, which was constructed in the early 1900s, has sat vacant and deteriorating for years. 

Many developers have proposed various ideas for what to do with the site, ranging from turning it into a wedding venue to tearing it down and filling the lot with new housing. 

Last year, the Crefeld School purchased the Greylock estate’s original gatehouse, located next to the school on Crefeld Street, for $1.2 million – a move that permanently closed off potential secondary access to the larger Greylock property.