Philadelphia City Hall

by Jennifer Katz

City Council passed Chestnut Hill College’s IDD legislation last Thursday, rezoning the two parcels that comprise the college as an Institutional Development District. It is the first IDD for Chestnut Hill and also the first IDD to contain a lengthy amendment restricting the scope of development.

The final passage of the IDD legislation came two months after the college had decided to move ahead with its plan to obtain an IDD in light of ongoing negotiations with community groups and the objections of near neighbors.

“It’s a huge relief,” said Sister Carol Jean Vale, president of the college.

The college has no immediate plans to build on either campus and is continuing to meet with a majority of the members of the negotiating group representing the Chestnut Hill Community Association, Chestnut Hill Business Association, Chestnut Hill Historical Society, Friends of the Wissahickon and the Houston estate.

Near neighbor groups, the Northwest Conservancy and North Chestnut Hill Neighbors, remain opposed to the IDD. According to Bob Shusterman, the groups are appealing the City Planning Commission’s approval of both the master plan (which dictates development of the site) and the IDD designation. Planning commission appeals are conducted through the Court Of Common Pleas.

Shusterman also said the groups expect to file other litigation while remaining willing to work with the college.

“We are disappointed that the college preemptively chose the legislative route,” he said. “We support the expansion of the college on SugarLoaf, provided it is done in a way that is respectful to the property and the surrounding community, does not overload the site and provides appropriate environmental protections.”

Vale said she welcomes the NWC and NCHN participation in the continuing negotiations but is concerned about the impact of litigation.

“I find it extraordinarily difficult to see how we can negotiate with individuals who are filing litigation,” she said.

The focus of the negotiations and the near neighbors’ concerns are the granting of easements beyond the Growing Greener 10.1 acres previously enacted. The college’s lender, which must decide if the property would retain enough of its value with additional easements (up to 60 percent of the land), has said it could have a decision in just two weeks.