by Pete Mazzaccaro

Things have been relatively quiet on the development front in Chestnut Hill. The two largest projects facing the neighborhood have not quite begun, but are more or less settled. That would be the expansion of Chestnut Hill College on its SugarLoaf campus and the construction of the Fresh Market at the former Magarity Ford site on Germantown Avenue.

Zoning meetings can still be contentious, but the stakes are much smaller.

In the neighboring townships of Springfield and Cheltenham, however, a fairly substantial development hangs in the balance.

That development has been in contention since it was first proposed on the site of an old estate in a neighborhood called Laverock Hill. The land stretches from Willow Grove Avenue in Cheltenham, just south of Route 309, into Springfield Township behind La Salle College High School.

At first, there was substantial outcry over the fate of the 42-acre estate on which a historic mansion designed by Charles Platt currently sits. Abandoned for many years, the house is considered by experts to qualify for protection.

Developers eventually agreed to repurpose the mansion, but the density they had in mind for the estate was not something neighbors were happy to accept.

The developer in this case, Hansen Properties, first planned to build more than 200 homes on the property. It scaled back the proposal to 156 homes, but neighbors have insisted that the property is more suited to around 35 single-family homes.

The reason for the disparity is that the property was identified by both townships as suitable for senior housing units – or “active adult” as it’s called in the industry. The overlay allows a developer to build smaller units at a much greater density.

The neighbors, of course, have a right to be concerned about those numbers. Adding 156 households would likely add a lot of automobile trips in and out of the planned development’s entrance on Willow Grove Avenue. That would be a big headache for neighbors and any commuters who use that stretch of Willow Grove Avenue regularly.

Though the townships would both plan to benefit a great deal from adding 156 property-tax-paying households, they’ve gotten together to review not only the proposal but the legislation that created the zoning overlay for active adult housing. In a move that you don’t hear about too often, commissioners from both townships are going to take their own proposal to both neighbors and developers to see if they can strike a compromise.

Neighbors and developers often get a bad wrap for being hard-lined in negotiations like these. Neighbors are accused of NIMBYism. Developers are called greedy. There’s often truth to both charges, but in the end, neighbors have a right to preserve their neighborhoods and developers have a right to try and get a return on an investment.

Hopefully, the direction taken by the commissioners of both townships can produce a compromise that both sides will can accept. It would be a nice change from the way developments are too often decided.

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