by Wes Ratko
Near neighbors said they were opposed to Green Woods Charter School’s move to the Greylock Manor property at 209 West Chestnut Hill Ave. Those neighbors and a large number of school supporters were out in force Tuesday night at the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee’s monthly meeting at Chestnut Hill Hospital.
The charter school, which is currently located at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, has entered into an agreement of sale with the owners of the mansion and has asked the Chestnut Hill Historical Society to amend easements the society has owned on the property since 1999. Those easements were purchased by the Historical Society to restrict development, preserve the mansion and its open space.
The school needs those easements changed in order to alter the property as part of a three-phase expansion plan. When completed, the school will have a student body of 675 students.
Speaking to the crowd, Jeff Hammond, representing the school’s Board of Trustees, said he was “excited to share the school with the community.” Hammond said the school needed to move in to accommodate a tremendous demand for the school.
“We turn away 90 percent of the students who apply to the school,” he said “ When rejected, many leave the city for the suburbs.”
A group of near neighbors, however, was not eager to welcome the school to the community, citing traffic and open space concerns.
Near neighbor Chris Gadsden presented a 100-signature petition of Hill residents he said are opposed to the charter school’s relocation. He was particularly concerned that the Historical Society would consider amending easements that would restrict development.
“These easements are not just bumper stickers that get slapped on,” Gadsden said. “They are carefully crafted legal documents.”
Greg Woodring, Co-Chair of the DRC disagreed.
“The spirit of the easement documents allows for them to be changed,” he said.
Regarding neighbor concerns about traffic, Wallace explained that the charter schools operate on hours and not days like regular public schools. It gives Green Woods the flexibility to change the start and finish times of the school day to accommodate additional traffic. A traffic study is currently being performed, with counts being taken on area roads this week.
Gadsden also expressed neighbor concerns that additional cuts to educational funding would force the school to sell the property in the future, leading to further development not in keeping with the school’s intentions.
Councilman Frank Rizzo, also a near neighbor suggested that Fairmount Park might buy the property
“The issue is this: If the deal falls through — and I’m not saying that it will — there will be an effort made to acquire the property for Fairmount Park,” he said.
The Charter School has not filed an application with The Department Licenses and Inspection and has, therefore, received no variance refusals from the Zoning Board of Adjustments. The Chestnut HIll Community Association’s committees generally only review zoning matters that have received zoning refusals from the city. Those refusals require zoning applicants to hold meetings and seek approval from local civic associations.
The DRC tabled the proposal.