by David Dannenberg
It is entirely reasonable for people who live in a community to want to forestall development that will have detrimental effects on their quality of life. If the people who already live in the community do not act directly to preserve it, however, preservation simply will not occur.
In the case of the Greylock mansion, although opposition to terrible plans has forestalled inappropriate development, opposition has not otherwise furthered the goal of preservation. As a result, currently the most likely course for Greylock is protracted demolition through neglect.
It is a demonstrated fact that the Greylock mansion and property cannot be profitably developed. This is evidenced by the facts that no well-established local developer has attempted to purchase or develop Greylock, and that not one of the various schemes proposed by others in the past several years are both profitable and conform to the easements.
The problem of utilizing Greylock is that no use in the current market is capable of providing sufficient returns on operations to pay back the capital expenditure necessary to make the facility functional. At the same time, there is little doubt that were the facility made functional, tenants (or owners) could be found or created that would generate enough income for its continued maintenance.
This situation leads to only two logical conclusions. One is that the easements are “unreasonable” and should be modified so that an “investor” can “make a fair profit” developing the property. This is absolute nonsense.
The intention of the easements on Greylock is to preserve the character of Chestnut Hill and to conserve the Wissahickon Watershed. There is no obligation on the part of the residents of the neighborhood to assure a profit to the owner of Greylock – or any other property – any more than there is an obligation for the neighborhood to assure a profit to the purchaser of bitcoin. The easements are not a secret. Caveat emptor. (“Let the buyer beware”)
Recognizing that Greylock can only be preserved at a financial loss or expenditure, it is clear that the best and most realistic path to the preservation or adaptive reuse of Greylock is through philanthropic endeavor. I do not think it takes me too far out on a limb to suggest that there is ample, aggregate wealth among homeowners in Chestnut Hill to facilitate the purchase and rehabilitation of Greylock, irrespective of the need for any financial return.
If the residents of Chestnut Hill really care about maintaining the general character of their neighborhood, it is incumbent upon them to take direct action by investing philanthropically to make the potential of Greylock manifest.
Again, opposition to bad plans is insufficient. It is necessary to embrace and materially support a good plan and to pitch in and help guide the creation or extension of an entity to see the project through.
This is not an entirely abstract concept. At least one general plan exists for an adaptive reuse of Greylock. This plan would be compatible with the easements, and because it would be managed by an existing nonprofit institution already successfully operating in Chestnut Hill, it would likely garner community support.
The plan is financially sound insofar as the program envisioned is projected to be operationally self-supporting. Capital is needed, however, to stabilize and renovate the property for its new use. This plan has been shared with and received nods of approval from perhaps a dozen residents of the neighborhood. It remains an open question, however, whether this general approbation can be translated into meaningful action – into sufficient philanthropic investment to help maintain the quality of life in Chestnut Hill.
If any readers of this column are interested in learning more about this specific proposal, please contact me through this newspaper.
Mt. Airy resident David Danneberg is a retired teacher. He is a former board member and active volunteer with Friends of the Wissahickon and is currently an active volunteer with Friends of the Cresheim Trail. To reach David, email DavidD@chestnuthilllocal.com