by Sister Carol Jean Vale
President, Chestnut Hill College

This letter is in response to a commentary/letter by Robert Shusterman inlast week’s edition.

Chestnut Hill College’s Master Plan was approved by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission on April 19th.  The approved Master Plan is the result of eighteen months of negotiation and conversation between the College and a Negotiating Group appointed by the Chestnut Hill Community Association composed of interested parties and other members of the CHCA.  Knowledgeable members from both the College and the Negotiating Group worked with the College’s architects to revise the Master Plan to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.  The current plan reflects significant changes to the original design, which benefit the Community and with which the College is in agreement. For example:

The buildings with underground parking will be constructed on the crest of the hill 350 feet from Germantown Avenue.

150 parking spaces were relocated from SugarLoaf to the Main Campus.

The Center for Performing Arts was relocated from SugarLoaf to the Main Campus.

All buildings have been situated within a building envelope which puts limitations on buildings’ volume and heights.

Construction that will be sensitive to light spillage and also will be bird friendly has been agreed to.

Modern technologies for a storm water management system sensitive to the environment of the Wissahickon Watershed are being incorporated into the plan with the guarantee of no open water retention basins on the property.

A pedestrian bridge, over the main entrance to the campus, and a proposed pedestrian pathway to connect upper Chestnut Hill with Fairmount Park have been removed per the request of the near neighbors.

Buildings, which provide an historic context for the Mansion, will be retained, e.g., the small cottage and the pool house.

Ten acres along the periphery of the campus, including the estate landscape on Bells Mill Road, have been deed-restricted to conservation and recreation and, at  a time to be agreed upon with the parties, will be placed under a perpetual conservation easement.

The SugarLoaf grounds will be enhanced by the restoration of the understory, the replacement of invasive species by the planting of native species.  The result will be a beautified landscape that retains and enriches the natural splendor of the wooded expanse along Germantown Avenue while it also screens a view of campus buildings from the public eye.

In addition to the Master Plan revision, the College has had sustained conversations with the Negotiating Group for sixteen months in an effort to craft a Community Development Agreement (CDA) which will further clarify the rights and responsibilities of both parties vis a vis the Master Plan and proposed IDD zoning. As part of the CDA, the College has agreed to convert the 10-acre, deed restricted Growing Greener space into a perpetual easement and to place a series of conservation easements on other parcels of the property as the campus is developed.  Depending upon the results of an ongoing appraisal of the property, the Community may well benefit from perpetual conservation easements that preserve 85 percent to 95 percent of the land outside the Master Plan development envelope.  Some of the land to be eased represents the most buildable space on the property.

These facts contradict the characterization that the College has been unwilling to negotiate.  On three different occasions, the College agreed to postpone its application for an IDD, from 12/09 to 6/10, from 6/10 to early Fall from early Fall to 12/10, from 12/10 to 3/10.  During that time, both groups discussed several alternatives to IDD zoning.

The College supported Robert Shusterman’s creative plan to introduce a new type of zoning district, an Institutional Planned Overlay District (IPOD).  On two different occasions the College agreed to this IPOD zoning, first to the entire Negotiating Group and then to Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger and high level officials from the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC).   After seriously considering the IPOD, the PCPC denied the request  in a letter of November 16, 2010 in which the College was instructed to apply for an IDD.  Even then, the College agreed that representatives from the Negotiating Group, accompanied by the College’s attorneys, could meet with City Councilwoman, Donna Reed Miller, to ask that she introduce special legislation to permit IPOD zoning for SugarLoaf. Officials from City Planning attended this meeting with Donna Reed Miller and it was made clear this alternative legislation was acceptable.  Again, the College was told by City officials and also by Councilwoman Miller to apply for an IDD.

Having deferred our IDD application three times to accommodate further conversations with the Negotiating Group, and having no other Master Plan based zoning vehicle available, at the insistence of the College Board of Directors, the urgings of our attorney, and following the directives of PCPC and Councilwoman Miller, the College filed with PCPC for an IDD on March 10, 2011.  The Master Plan was approved unanimously by the PCPC on April 19, 2011, a Master Plan that has been supported by the Negotiating Group both publicly to City Planning and privately to the College’s negotiating team.

The response of the Negotiating Group to the submission of the application for IDD zoning was divided.  Two near neighbor groups (The Northwest Wissahickon Conservancy and the North Chestnut Hill Neighbors, Inc., headed by Robert Shusterman) withdrew from direct negotiations with the College.  The other community groups (The representatives of the CHCA, The Friends of the Wissahickon, the Chestnut Hill Business Association, the Chestnut Hill Historical Society and a couple of individual near neighbors connected to the NWC) continue to this day to negotiate in a sincere effort to reach an equitable agreement that benefits all parties. The continued discussions have focused on the Community Development Agreement and the text for the IDD.  Both documents are nearing completion.

The proposed IDD for Chestnut Hill College represents a dramatic departure from IDDs granted to the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Temple University, etc.  In fact, the PCPC has agreed to incorporate elements of the IPOD, developed by you (Robert Shusterman), into the ordinance language and Master Plan that will govern the zoning for this parcel of land.  The College’s zoning ordinance and Master Plan will include:

• Subzones
• Peripheral zones
• Conservation areas
• Limitations on potential commercial uses, otherwise customary, listed in standard IDD language
• Limitation on total floor area to be built, far less than that allowed by a standard IDD.
• Building heights and setbacks
• Storm water management regulations

These measures protect the community by drastically restricting the possible uses of the land and the buildings to be constructed upon it.

The College’s goal is to develop an approved Master Plan that meets the goals and expectations of the College, while also respecting the singular environment that characterizes the Chestnut Hill neighborhood.  The institution remains committed to negotiating a CDA and perpetual easements that will reflect this goal.  To this end, there have been and are a series of meetings scheduled with members of the Negotiating Group between now and the next public hearing before the City Planning commission on May 17th.

Contrary to the allegations and misrepresentations contained in the May 2, 2011, letter and other materials that have been disseminated by the NWC and the NCHN, we assert: that the College has been open and responsive, on an on-going basis, to Community issues and concerns; that the College will meet required codes, statutes, ordinances including the WWO (Wissahickon Watershed Ordinance) based on pertinent language drafted by Robert Vance, Esq., President of the FOW, and Peter Kelsen, Esq., zoning attorney for the College; that the Master Plan was jointly created and endorsed by all the Community Groups both in meetings with the College and in two separate meetings with the PCPC on May 26, 2010 and September 26, 2010; that the College continues in its efforts to reach an agreement with the Community on an equitable CDA and text for the IDD ordinance. There are many dedicated and earnest Community members who continue to try to craft an agreement that is beneficial to the Community and the College.

If, as you state in your first sentence, the NCHN and the NWC are moving towards confrontation, it will be pursued to the detriment of the broader community.  The College is willing to grant the perpetual easements and preserve the green space ONLY if we can conclude a Community Development Agreement signed by all members of  the appointed CHCA Negotiating Group.  The ownership of the property by the College guarantees benefits to the community unlikely to be offered by a developer.

Immense progress has been made and we are close to resolving all of the outstanding issues.  I regret that, despite invitations from the College and the Negotiating Group, Mr. Shusterman, you have chosen not to attend these meetings. Frankly, I am confused by such a decision. The NWC has at least sent a representative to each meeting.  The College welcomes dialogue with you and invites you to return to the table.