This is your houseBy Lori Salganicoff

Last week, many in the community were shocked by the sudden destruction of mature trees on West Chestnut Hill Avenue, and were alarmed to learn that a demolition permit application had been filed by the site’s new owners. 

Although the trees have been lost forever, the Department of Licenses and Inspections has, thankfully, rejected the demolition permit application, and the Philadelphia Historical Commission has accepted the nomination of the house for historic designation and protection (review underway). We look forward to working with the owner to develop the property in a way that takes advantage of the beautiful historic house that remains there.

This is somebody else’s historic house, somebody else’s heritage trees.  Why should you care that a developer might want to demolish and destroy rather than renovate and prune the property he now owns?

Ask yourself why you live, build, shop and work here. Why are developers attracted to this place? 

It is the quality of architecture, the rhythms of built and open space, and the green “fingers of the park” permeating public and private space alike that define our streetscapes. Destroying these amenities erodes the unique character that makes it a joy to be here and brings top dollar.

Chestnut Hill has been recognized as Philadelphia’s Garden District, honored by the American Planning Association and Forbes as one of the nation’s Top Ten Great Neighborhoods, and remains one of the nation’s largest historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This is not likely to be the last challenge of this kind. If you are a property owner or developer thinking about changes to your property, we ask that you consider the following:

• Does your property contribute to the richness of high-quality, diverse architecture and open space prized here? Not sure?  Contact us, the Chestnut Hill Historical Society (CHHS)! We probably have information about the history of your property and even some old photos, in our files.

• Do you have heritage trees on your property? Although the City only regulates heritage trees at very large and commercial developments, a huge percentage of the wonderful trees here could be characterized as heritage trees. Check with the city’s Planning Department to see if your property contains some of these beautiful protectors of our watershed.

• Did you know that you can conserve your open space and protect your historic architecture in a way that brings tax deductions? CHHS is the nation’s first urban accredited Land Trust and currently holds easements on 90 acres of open space and 14 historic facades. Contact us to find out more about this program, which is run in partnership with Friends of the Wissahickon.

Please understand – we do not wish to stop development and change; Chestnut Hill was developed, after all, and must continue to grow.  CHHS works to protect our community’s historic resources and open space, and prioritizes harmony and enduring quality in new development. Please contact me at LSalganicoff@CHHist.org or 215-247-0417 to learn more, and visit our website at CHHist.org to support these efforts.

Lori Salganicoff is executive director of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society (CHHS).

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