Greylock plan gets a green light

by Tom Beck
Posted 3/13/24

A controversial development proposal for the historic Greylock mansion was approved by the narrowest of margins by a committee of the Chestnut Hill Community Association.

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Greylock plan gets a green light


A controversial development proposal for the historic Greylock mansion on Chestnut Hill Avenue was approved by the narrowest of margins by the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Land Use Planning and Zoning committee on March 7.  

At the end of what had been a contentious meeting, the margin was so close that committee co-chair Steve Gendler had to cast a tiebreaking vote, and chose to support granting the zoning variances the developer will need to complete his plans for the early-20th-century mansion. LUPZ rules dictate that the meeting’s presiding chair – in this case, Gendler – only votes to break a tie. 

Committee members Craig Schelter, John Landis, Jason Friedland, Jan Albaum and Chris Linn voted in support of the proposal while Camille Peluso, Jean McCoubrey, Andrew Moroz, Joyce Lenhardt and Greg Lattanzi opposed.

The plan approved by the CHCA did not include a controversial fourth-story addition to the historic mansion, which The development team, led by Rhombus Properties managing partner Lavi Shenkman, had proposed at the previous meeting on Feb. 19. 

Thursday’s presentation also showed a triplex in the southwest corner of the property, which replaced what had previously been shown as a five-unit building. The change removed density concerns, which “several people expressed concerns about” in the previous meeting, said the development team’s architect, Matt Millan, at the meeting.

The new plans also increased the number of units in the original Greylock mansion from four units to six, which they did in part by splitting the single unit on the third floor in half to make two units. Three bi-level units are on the first and second floors in addition to the basement unit. An additional unit was added in the basement.

Developers also rotated the buildings in the northwest and southwest corners of the lot in a way that enhances views from the Lavender Trail, Millan said.

The change, Millan said, created two “symmetrical view windows” from the Lavender Trail toward the mansion.

Partly due to the elimination of the fourth story addition, Rhombus now needs just two variances from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustments – down from its original five – to complete the development. One is for construction on a steep slope and the other is for building multiple buildings in a single lot.

However, completion of the project would also require conservation easements currently held by the Chestnut Hill Conservancy to be amended. To date, the Conservancy hasn’t voiced support or opposition to potential amendments. According to the Conservancy’s executive director, Lori Salganicoff, the organization will only engage in conversations about potential amendments to the easements if Rhombus’ variances are granted by the ZBA.

Some committee members who voted to oppose the variances Thursday night said their votes had more to do with Greylock’s preservation than the actual variances themselves.

Moroz voted in opposition because the developer’s proposal didn’t preserve the open space mandated in the easement, “which I realize I'm not supposed to take into consideration,” he said. “But as a historic property in a historic district, I do look at it as a setting which should be preserved.”

Several members of the public also opposed it, including Brad Bank and David Dannenberg of the Chestnut Hill Landmarks Committee, who have long opposed development on the grounds of Greylock.

“The only justification for this is the financial gain of an out-of-town developer,” said Dannenberg. “I have to ask you guys, whose interest do you think you represent as a community organization?”

In his statement, Bank called the proposed new buildings both “horrendous” and detrimental to the view of the mansion.

“If you want to look through a little window to see [Greylock] you can do it,” he said, “but the views [of Greylock] from the trail should be anywhere on the trail.” 

However, at least one nearby resident, Mason Barnett, was in support of Rhombus’ plan. She said she was happy that the project protected the view from Chestnut Hill Avenue and “doesn’t overdevelop.”

“I think people who are neutral or in favor of this project are underrepresented at this meeting possibly because there's a bit of a squeaky wheel going on,” she said. “It may not be perfect, but I don't think we should be nitpicking over it. I think we should be happy with what we have.”

Landis told the development team that he appreciated its enhancement of the view lines both from the Lavender Trail toward the mansion and vice versa. He also praised the team’s “clever” inclusion of a basement unit.

“I think your presentation tonight really shows you thought through those [concerns],” he said. “We might not all agree with them, but I appreciate the substance of the response.”

The CHCA’s Development Review Committee also voted in favor of supporting the variances by a 4-1 margin at the same meeting. John Landis, Steve Gendler, Chris Linn and Matt Rutt voted in favor. Sam Filippi was the lone DRC committee member to vote in opposition. 

The next step for the development team will be to go before the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s full board on Thursday, March 14.