by Luke Harold
The Philadelphia City Planning Commission has approved Chestnut Hill College’s master plan to expand both its main campus and its SugarLoaf Campus.
The approved expansion precedes the changing of the zoning of both campuses from residential to Institutional Development District (IDD), enabling the college to build according to the approved master plan without revisiting zoning.
In the next few weeks, Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller is expected to introduce formal legislation creating the IDD. A public City Council hearing will be scheduled within 45 days of the bill’s introduction.
The college’s move forward with the IDD application process came after more than a year of negotiating with near neighbors and local organizations impacted by the change in zoning and the development of the SugarLoaf campus specifically.
A number of those involved in the negotiations expressed their disapproval of the IDD and the college’s master plan to the city’s planning commission at its hearing.
George E. Thomas, vice president of the Northwest Wissahickon Conservancy, issued a statement to the planning commission citing “property interests” of local citizens and historical preservation of the area, among other reasons against the proposed expansion.
He also said he believes the IDD gives the college unfair leverage in the negotiations, and that the college has “threatened to turn the property over for high-density development.”
“Your approval of this master plan and the college IDD application at this point will short circuit the negotiations that have been underway for the last 18 months,” Thomas said in the statement. “The college appears to be using the IDD application as a perverse negotiating tool to force acceptance of its one-sided community development agreement.”
Thomas and the Northwest Wissahickon Conservancy were part of a negotiating group composed of neighbors, local institutions and the college. The group has been negotiating about the development of the SugarLoaf property for more than a year.
Larry McEwen, co-chairperson of the negotiating committee, declined comment.
Maura McCarthy, executive director of Friends of the Wissahickon, said every FOW member who spoke during the negotiations opposed the expansion, but declined to cite their reasons why.