by Wesley Ratko 

Neighbor dissatisfaction with the removal of trees on Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s West Willow Grove Avenue campus prompted the Chestnut Hill Community Association to delay support for three variances the school is seeking to improve its athletic fields.

Board members asked the school instead to engage neighbors in discussions about replacing the trees.

The school’s plan was presented to the CHCA board at its meeting on Thursday, July 26.

Near neighbor Peter Marvin of West Hartwell Lane told the board that he and his neighbors were concerned that the school had not made an adequate commitment to provide tree screening along their property line to block the view of new bleachers and a dugout planned by the school.

“A dialogue with the school has only just started,” Marvin said, but added that no assurances had been offered the neighbors.

He told the board that he was not necessarily opposed to the plan but wanted to make sure the school was committed to providing that screening.

Springside Chestnut Hill trustee Henry O’Reilly, who represented the school and presented the plan, said the school had reached out to neighbors, and that changes had been made to the plan within the last 24 hours, when the issue had first been addressed. O’Reilly added that the dugouts the neighbors are taking issue with have always been there, something the neighbors said was not true.

“We were told it was something we could count on,” one neighbor said, referring to the screening.

Board member Richard Snowden suggested that the neighbors and the school work together to formulate a community agreement, similar to the one in place between Snowden’s company, Bowman Properties, and the near neighbors surrounding his development project on the former Magarity Ford site.

“This is one of the streets that has a lot of 19th century character to it and it’s very important to the historic district,” Snowden said in support of the project.

Near neighbor Peg Wellington, of West Hartwell Lane, said she was “devastated” when she saw that the trees had been removed.

“I’m devastated for my neighbors where the trees came down,” she said. “It’s awful – it totally changes the spirit of who we are.”

Marvin, voicing the concerns of the neighbors, asked that the board not support approval of a variance until their concerns are addressed.

Board member Elizabeth Bales, the parent of a Springside student, said that she, too, wants to support the school and was sensitive to the time constraint to finish the project in time for the fall semester, but said she couldn’t vote in favor of support until she’d seen renderings of the proposed buildings.

Instead of forcing Springside Chestnut Hill to wait another month until the next board meeting, the board instead voted to grant power to the Executive Committee, which would see all of the necessary community agreements and renderings and make a determination to support a variance on its own. The motion to do so was passed unanimously.

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