The aging Greylock mansion, which sits on several acres of open space and has been left for some time to begin a slide into disrepair, has become the focus of the charter school’s plans to expand from a modest home at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education to a new facility on the mansion’s grounds.
Perched on a slope that leads directly into the Wissahickon Valley section of Fairmount Park, the mansion is the perfect location for a school that puts environmentalism and conservation at the center of its curriculum.
Neighbors, however, are not convinced the move will be a benefit for their section of Chestnut Hill Avenue. The school would cause a dramatic increase in traffic. Right now, the building is home to nothing and no traffic. Green Woods eventually will be home to almost 700 students and faculty members.
Neighbors of the mansion quickly mobilized, met and collected 100 signatures on a petition opposed to the charter school’s plans. They were concerned about the traffic impact, the open space implications and the general preservation of the mansion.
Again an institution and neighbors are at odds over the use of an estate property in Chestnut Hill.
While neighbors have an absolute right to be concerned about the impact of a new school on Chestnut Hill Avenue — from 0 to 700 is a big use change — it’s hard to imagine what other options there are for a big property like Greylock mansion.
You don’t have to look too far to see other examples of big properties where lack of development has left a large crumbling structure surrounded by weeds. There’s the Widener estate and Laverock Hill in Cheltenham. Both could be stuck in a purgatory of non-development for years — The Widener estate is already in an advanced state of disrepair.
What are the realistic alternatives for a place like Greylock? The property has no chance of being developed into homes — at least not the kind of low-density homes neighbors would like to see. If a developer thought the property could be converted into homes in a way that made economic sense, I’m pretty sure it would have been snapped up long ago.
Change has to come to Greylock, and neighbors and the community need to consider what the best possible outcome would be. A school certainly sounds better than a vacant, moldering estate home. Perhaps there’s a way it could be made into condos (I doubt it) or neighbors could pool their resources, buy it, raze the mansion and deed it to Fairmount park as open space.
The charter school proposal, right now, is the best option on the table. Perhaps a better alternative is out there. If so, we haven’t heard it yet.