What is happening at Greylock and the value of conservation easements?

by Brad Bank, Chestnut Hill Landmarks Committee, LLC
Posted 10/19/23

There is currently a proposal for the re-development of 209 W. Chestnut Hill Ave., the property known as Greylock Mansion.

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What is happening at Greylock and the value of conservation easements?


There is currently a proposal for the re-development of 209 W. Chestnut Hill Ave., the property known as Greylock Mansion. This proposal seeks to divide the existing Mansion into four residences, divide the existing Carriage House into two homes, and to construct two new twin-unit buildings, a new building to house five families, two new parking garages, a new swimming pavilion as well as septic waste fields in the slope facing Chestnut Hill Avenue. 

Some of the construction is within 18 feet of the park near the Lavender Trail where a minimum of 30 feet is required. Additional zoning variances are needed for the number of buildings on the lot, steep slope issues, and removal of legacy trees. 

The entire 7-acre property is subject to an extensive list of conservation easements which were put in place in 2000 with a Banker/Owner who proposed building a corporate office retreat that needed neighborhood approvals to do so. An agreement was reached that allowed the Banker to use the property provided they put permanent restrictions on the land. 

These restrictions were agreed to after negotiations and input from neighbors and neighborhood organizations. They are considered to be valid and enforceable. It is likely that most of the current re-development proposal would require the elimination, modification or amendment of a substantial portion of the easements currently in place. The easements themselves are controlled by the Chestnut Hill (CH) Conservancy in cooperation with the Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW).

Our organization, the Chestnut Hill Landmarks Committee, was formed in 2011 to preserve and protect historic landmarks in the local area. Among other purposes, this committee seeks to ensure that residents and property owners have the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process of the public agencies that impact landmark preservation and have a venue to share opinions related to local properties. Consideration of the current preservation easements on 209 falls under our purview and desire for neighborhood input.  

We feel that the current re-development proposal violates many of the easement provisions including but not limited to the following:

  • Building too close to the Park
  • Too many residences/density
  • New housing and open space views from the Lavender Trail
  • Changes in impervious surfaces exceeding 6000 sq feet
  • Changes in steep slope drainage
  • Changes in the architecture of the existing Mansion and Carriage House including subdivision
  • Significant increases in traffic, noise, and lighting
  • Removal of legacy trees.

Electronic copies of the easements are available online.

The Conservancy and the Friends of the Wissahickon have been receptive to discussions with neighbors on these issues and will likely offer a forum for community input. 

However, while amendments to conservation easements can be legally modified, the changes are usually very limited in scope. They should achieve a net increase or gain in conservation value (“Net Conservation/ Preservation Gain”). 

Specifics of such gains have not been prepared by the re-development team and should be commensurate with the re-development gains permitted by the proposed multi-year construction efforts. 

There has been neighborhood concern for several years regarding the deteriorating condition of Greylock. Current and previous owners have not adhered to minimal maintenance requirements outlined in the easements. It is incumbent on the current owner to remedy this and not be rewarded for an "anything is better than this" condition of the property because of their neglect. 

We believe the Conservancy/ FOW must step up efforts to enforce the maintenance provisions, or reach out to the community or other organizations to help them enforce the easements. 

So often in our community, there are major construction projects that community members oppose. By right or by zoning variances, construction sometimes takes place that many of us object to but are powerless to prevent.

Greylock is a rare opportunity to support the CH Conservancy/ FOW’s obligations to uphold the conservation easements and covenants that protect open space and historic construction. Current donors of easements and future easements deserve as much.