The Greylock proposal highlights flaw in the process

Posted 11/16/23

LUPZC has so far considered Greylock’s applications for zoning variances in isolation, as if there were not other, more restrictive, legal limits.

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The Greylock proposal highlights flaw in the process


I respect and appreciate the fact that thoughtful educated individuals donate their time and expertise to serve on various committees of the CHCA. And I recognize the important role that these organs of community management have sometimes played in keeping Chestnut Hill as nice as it is. It is not easy to fairly and transparently manage and weigh in on sometimes controversial issues that affect the quality of life in the neighborhood. That criticism can emerge from all sides of an issue, and can run deeper than the particulars of the issue at hand, can be frustrating to the volunteers on the committees. Yet it is also just part of the territory. If you are in the kitchen cooking up policy on contentious issues, you should expect some uncomfortable heat to be generated. 

It is then with both respect for, and frustration with, the LUPZC (Land Use, Planning, and Zoning Committee)  that I feel compelled to opine on the management to date of public consideration of the latest scheme for the redevelopment of the Greylock mansion and property. Simply put, LUPZC has so far considered Greylock’s aspiring developer’s applications for zoning variances in isolation, as if there were not other, more restrictive, legally binding limits on the development of the property. There are such restrictions on the property in the form of preservation and conservation easements on the buildings and grounds respectively. The easements are held and enforced by the Chestnut Hill Conservancy (CHC). Those easements, as a matter of law, supersede any rulings by the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA). 

The Land Use, Planning, and Zoning Committee exists in the words of the CHCA “ …to review all problems affecting land use within the community and to make recommendations for action by the CHCA Board.”  

The description continues in part to iterate matters to be considered by LUPZC as in part: “Changes in land uses, buildings, plans, and zoning, and their impacts on near neighbors and the broader community; the general compliance of proposed projects with land use and design guidelines approved by or in association with the CHCA; the consistency of proposed projects with ‘best practices’ for comparable projects, and the compliance of projects with Philadelphia Codes.”

Nowhere in the above description, nor in the more detailed description of the composition and functioning of the committee, is the suggestion made that matters of the zoning code should be considered in isolation, irrespective of other important constraints that legally govern the use and disposition of any property under review. 

The easements that the Chestnut Hill Conservancy (CHC) holds on the Greylock property outline the limits of what may and may not take place there. Those easements run to well over 100 pages and are protected by law. They supersede zoning rules. It is absurd for the CHCA or any of its various committees to consider any application for a zoning variance on any eased property without deference to easements (and other legally binding constraints) concerning the use of the property under discussion.  

So far, in two public meetings alone, the CHCA has wasted something over 275 hours of people’s time in discussion of a proposed plan for Greylock that on its face does not comply with the easements that legally restrict what may occur on the land in question, without discussing how the plan could possibly be made to work within the constraints of the easements, and without any input whatsoever from the organization that holds and is legally bound to enforce those easements, the CHC. In so doing, the CHCA is encouraging the idea that the proposal under discussion need only obtain zoning variances to be made manifest. This does a tremendous disservice to the community - and to the aspiring developer. 

Discussion about the current proposal for the redevelopment of Greylock is just beginning. Unfortunately, to date, the CHCA has merely shone a happy light on the developer’s proposal while deliberately de-emphasizing, even discouraging, discussion of the easements that constitute the most salient legal limitations on what can occur there. In so doing, the CHCA is at best clouding the lens through which the public looks at the proposal, and at worst blatantly tipping its hand in favor of the developer by devoting hours of public meetings to what amount to detailed sales pitches for their proposal, while disallowing meaningful discussion of the more important legal issues that will determine the plan’s viability. 

I hope that going forward the various organs of the CHCA will deliberate matters such as the current application for zoning variances on the Greylock property within a properly broad context that accounts for all of the legal and other constraints that govern parcels and proposals under discussion. Doing so would be more efficient, productive, and fair to all involved than is current practice.

David Dannenberg

Chestnut Hill