With a number of hurdles now behind it, Chestnut Hill College is ready to move forward with construction of its new entrance at Germantown and Hillcrest Avenues.
With a number of hurdles now behind it, Chestnut Hill College is ready to move forward with construction of its new entrance at Germantown and Hillcrest Avenues, a project that has sparked controversy because of its aggressive disruption of what had been a forested hillside near the entrance to the historic community.
In a meeting with neighbors held via Zoom last week, CHC President Sister Carol Jean Vale told those present that “if landscaping is to be completed this fall, it is imperative to move forward without delays.”
Ron Zemnick, a CHC board member who was involved in the purchase, renovation, and development of the SugarLoaf campus, reported that the college has now cleared a number of hurdles.
First, an archaeological and historic review of the property that was requested by the state on Feb. 25 came back showing that the project had “low” potential for doing damage and that no additional work was needed. The report also stated that the Chestnut Hill College campus entrance project “will have no effect on the (historic) district’s ability to reflect its significance,” he said.
Additionally, Zemnick said, demolition test blasts conducted on March 23 showed no negative impact on surrounding properties, he said. They did discover an underground natural gas vault underneath Germantown Avenue, Zemnick said, but PGW confirmed that it will not be affected by the blasting.
And while there are Civil War fortifications onsite, Zemnick said, they are not close to the construction and will not be impacted by the project.
Lori Salganicoff, director of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy, said she appreciates the survey - but wishes it had been done before construction started.
“I’m glad they hired someone to take a look at what might be there, though I did not see anything about historic architecture in the report,” Salganicoff said. “With any additional work or future projects we all hope that the college will ask these questions before any construction starts, which is when it is supposed to be done.”
Meanwhile, the college has been consulting with experts at Morris Arboretum to reconsider its choice of plantings. Those conversations have resulted in “a more natural look” that replaces lawn with a meadow, and more naturalized restoration areas that “will blend into the existing wooded areas,” Zemnick said.
Trees and shrubs are being chosen to provide a “layered effect” of height and texture, to provide color and interest throughout all four seasons, and to soften the appearance of the massive new retaining walls.
The final landscape plan is almost finished, he said, and renderings will be ready soon. Current plans call for more than 1,000 plants, 687 shade trees, 360 shrubs, 653 perennials and 1.5 acres of meadow mix.
The new forested area will not cover the retention basin, since nothing with deep roots can be planted there, he said. So plans call for a mix of red cedar, evergreens, and tulip trees to be planted between that basin and Germantown Avenue to provide some screening.
There will also be a 10-foot tall deer fencing going up to protect the newly-planted trees and shrubs, which will have to remain for up to five years, he said.
Approvals still needed
The college still needs to get final approval for planned changes to the intersection, Zemnick said, but he doesn't expect that to be a problem.
“It was the city’s requirement that the entrance be aligned with Hillcrest, rather than being offset downhill.” he said. “The city asked for the realignment and signals, and the city has informed us that we should expect plan approval shortly.”
Sister Carol Jean Vale, responding to a question about what lessons the college has learned as a result of the controversy sparked by the project, said she would have discussed their plans with the community earlier in the project.
“There would be every plan to do that moving forward,” she said. “I think we’ve all learned something from going through this process…the worst thing is to make a mistake and not learn from it.”
City Councilmember Cindy Bass, who has been fielding complaints from constituents, said the college “must consider the concerns of its neighbors.”
“I empathize and agree with these longtime residents regarding the construction noise and potential damage to their properties, the issues related to the aesthetic of a landscaping wall that the college has already constructed, and what may be unnecessary tree removals, among other concerns,” Bass said in a statement to the Local. “I am committed to ensuring both parties can find some common ground."