by Ulrich Hiesinger, Ph.D.
Some years ago, Chestnut Hill neighbors successfully challenged an attempt to convert the historic Greylock Mansion (209 W. Chestnut Hill Avenue) into a large, intrusive medical facility. One result was a set of easements on the property – negotiated through, and now enforced by the Chestnut Hill Historical Society and Friends of the Wissahickon – that would forbid such future large-scale use.
Now we are faced with an attempt by the Green Woods Charter School to sweep aside those restrictive easements and existing zoning rules in order to expand their operations from the Schuylkill Valley Nature Center into Chestnut Hill. Green Woods describes its mission as serving as the “custodian” of the natural environment (a good thing), but they seem to have overlooked the equally crucial custodianship of our unique urban environment.
Their plan would drop into our neighborhood a much expanded physical plant accommodating a population of upwards of 700 students and staff, not to mention attending families. Here is no control on how even that number might grow.
Of course the Green Woods administration and, presumably, the seller would stand to profit by this plan. But the good intentions of Green Woods and others promoting this proposal are not at issue here. The issue is the devastating impact such a plan would have on the immediate neighborhood and the wider Chestnut Hill community.
West Chestnut Hill Avenue is already intolerably over-trafficked by innumerable school buses, heavy industrial trucks, and commuter cars. During times of heavy use – exactly when school days begin and end – it can become a nightmarish transit way to the suburbs that local drivers avoid if they can, as do many pedestrians. West Chestnut Hill Avenue cannot tolerate more traffic, noise, damaging vibrations, and dangers from speeders. And would it offer a safe venue for students? No.
Green Woods has prepared on its own elaborate plans for the facility while admittedly never bothering to undertake studies on its impact on the neighborhood through increased road traffic, needs for sewage, drainage, changes to the historically protected street frontage, etc., and other concerns too numerous to mention here. All of these considerations are being treated by Green Woods as an afterthought, yet they are precisely the consideration that should have earlier nipped these ill-conceived and disruptive plans in the bud.
We are informed by Green Woods that the Greylock site was chosen among four or five other possibilities.
If one reads the nomination document of 1985 by which the Chestnut Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (portions available at http://www.livingplaces.com/PA/Philadelphia_County/Philadelphia_City/Chestnut_Hill_Historic_District.html) one finds that virtually every element of the Green Woods plan runs contrary to it.
Please join those who would urge the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, Friends of the Wissahickon and Chestnut Hill Community Association to do their part in upholding the protective easements that maintain the integrity of our historic district, and respectfully request Green Woods to find a suitable site elsewhere.
Ulrich Hiesinger is a near neighbor to the the Greylock Mansion