CHCA votes to support controversial development plan for Greylock

by Tom Beck
Posted 3/20/24

The Chestnut Hill Community Association board voted 10-5 in favor of supporting the variances required to redevelop the historic mansion.

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CHCA votes to support controversial development plan for Greylock


The Chestnut Hill Community Association board voted 10-5 last Thursday in favor of supporting the variances required to redevelop the historic Greylock mansion on Chestnut Hill Avenue, inching the proposal closer to a potential reality. There were two abstentions. 

Rhombus Properties’ plans for the property include building six dwelling units inside the mansion and three detached buildings on the mansion’s west side. One would be a triplex and the other two would be duplexes. The mansion’s gatehouse, according to the plans, would also be converted into two units, bringing the total unit count to 15.

“I believe that the public process thus far is exemplary of how community involvement, good and bad, can yield a better result,” Rhombus’ managing partner, Lavi Shenkman, said at the meeting. “A result which I am proud to be a part of.”

The proposal will now go before the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustments. If the ZBA grants the variances, developers will then need to amend easements, which currently prevent construction on Greylock’s grounds. The easements are held by the Chestnut Hill Conservancy, which has remained neutral on its potential support for the Rhombus’ plans.

The CHCA vote included a proviso that mandated a community benefits agreement be reached between the development team and the CHCA. Another proviso attached to the vote stipulated that the project would have to reappear in front of the CHCA’s Land Use, Planning and Zoning committee to further discuss design details if the development team manages to acquire both the necessary zoning variances and easement amendments for the proposal’s construction. 

At the beginning of the meeting, the CHCA’s Vice President of Physical Division, Matt Rutt, said that the CHCA board would only consider the value of the zoning variances when voting – and not the easements.

“Our role as an [registered community organization] is to review applications for zoning appeals,” he said. “While we certainly understand that this particular application is covered by various conservation easements, these easements will need to be addressed between the entities that are a party to such easements of which the CHCA is not.”

Despite the majority vote in support of the project, many community residents voiced their opposition, including Brad Bank, one of Greylock’s near neighbors and a member of the Chestnut Hill Landmarks Committee.

“Our opposition is not only based on enforcing conservation and preservation easements on Greylock but on the principles on which the easements were given,” he said. “Consider the reason the easements were placed on the property 23 years ago - [to preserve] open space park views not just from a tiny point of view but anywhere in the park [and] views of the sweeping lawn unencumbered by a pool or a septic field.”

George Zeleznik, Head of School at the Crefeld School, which is located next door to Greylock, said he was opposed to the project because it would violate the easements. The project’s construction, he said, would also disrupt students' learning. 

“If this proposal goes through we will not be able to teach in many classrooms for several years,” he said. “The Crefeld School is by far the most impacted by this irresponsible development.”

David Fineman, an attorney who represents some of the property’s nearest neighbors, said the board should vote against supporting the project due to what he felt was the development team’s lack of a hardship – something it’ll have to prove it has before the ZBA.

“There is no hardship to the land,” he said, “and this group should vote against this development.”

Another neighbor, Christina Fournaris, said that she was frustrated at the CHCA’s lack of willingness to consider the easements when weighing support for the project.

“I know everybody wants to kick the easement to the curb but it is essential that they not be overlooked as part of the CHCA process,” she told the board. “I ask each of you to consider three possible implications of your decision on this proposal.”

However, some residents, including Tyler Britten, voiced support. Britten said he supported the project in large part because it would bring housing to Chestnut Hill, “which is definitely a need.” The project, Britten said, will also breathe life back into the long-vacant mansion.

“As many have noted, the properties fell into disrepair through many owners, not just the current owner,” he said. “I think the effort to try and redevelop it…makes a lot of sense.”

Neighbor Mason Barnett, who also supported the project, said that she shared Zelznik’s concerns about the impact construction would have on the Crefeld School, but argued the project would be worth the disruption once built.

“People going past on Chestnut Hill Avenue will see a beautiful meadow that is well planted with many trees,” she said. “They will see the mansion, [but] they will not see much of the other buildings at all because they will be obscured by trees and they are also behind the mansion.”

The project will appear before the ZBA at 2 p.m. on March 27. The meeting will be held via Zoom.