Controversy continues for historic hilltop mansion

by Tom Beck
Posted 1/25/24

If Thursday's meeting is any indication, controversy about the potential development of Greylock mansion seems unlikely to end soon.

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Controversy continues for historic hilltop mansion


If Thursday night’s Chestnut Hill Conservancy meeting is any indication, controversy surrounding the potential development of a 16,500-square-foot mansion at the top of Chestnut Hill Avenue seems unlikely to end soon. 

That’s because Brad Bank, who is also a member of the Chestnut Hill Landmarks Committee, continued to apply pressure on the Conservancy at the organization’s annual meeting Thursday night, railing against the possibility of amending conservation easements to accommodate the current owner’s plans for Greylock. 

“The Conservancy has a legal obligation to compel the owner to adhere to the…provisions explicitly described in the preservation easement,” Bank said in his speech. “As a community, we should not be blackmailed into accepting a plan that requires modification of easements because the property has deteriorated.”

Bank spoke of times when he’d go for runs along the Lavender Trail, which runs behind the Greylock property, and appreciated the bucolic views he’d see on his jogs. He said he “embraced the drafting of these easements and appreciated the fact that they would exist in perpetuity.”

Greylock, an early 20th-century mansion designed for steel magnate Henry A. Lachlan that has sat vacant for years, could be the future site of three new apartment buildings if developer Lavi Shenkman and his firm, Rhombus Properties, get his way. Shenkman also hopes to renovate the mansion into four separate apartments and add two condominium units in Greylock’s carriage house. 

For that to happen, Shenkman would need variances from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment. But perhaps more importantly, he’d also need the Chestnut Hill Conservancy to agree to amend conservation easements that currently prevent new construction on the grounds of Greylock. (Shenkman declined to comment for this article.)

The Chestnut Hill Conservancy has not publicly commented on whether it would support such a measure.

“It’s not appropriate for us to be stating an opinion about a project that we have not reviewed and is in a state of flux with the city,” said the Conservancy’s executive director, Lori Salganicoff, in a phone call on Friday. “If there is an amendment to an easement that is proposed by the owner after they go through their variance process, we will then…do our best job to give feedback on what makes the most sense and upholds the objectives of the easements.”

However, Salganicoff did push back on Bank’s assertion that the property had deteriorated due to “the failures of a succession of owners, including the current one, to maintain the grounds and buildings.” 

That characterization is “not fair,” Salganicoff said.

“When the current owner took control of the site, they did tighten up the building and stop the water infiltration,” she added.

Bank also suggested that the Conservancy should use its cash on hand to get the building rehabilitated. 

“You guys are sitting on $1.7 million in liquid assets,” he said. “You have the capacity to get that place cleaned up and taken care of.”

Salganicoff, however, said that most of the Conservancy’s donations are restricted, which means that they can only be used for the specific purpose outlined by individual donors. 

“That’s not the whole story,” she said. “Our assets are not free to be used for anything.”

Bank contests that no new construction is necessary for the project to be profitable. He cites a former development team’s vision for the property, which would have rehabilitated Greylock and its carriage house but also preserved the open space, as proof. 

An agent for that development team, which was led by Scranton-based developer John Basalyga, previously told the Local that his group stood to make a $3 million to $4 million profit on its plan.

“That’s nothing to sneeze at,” said the agent, Costa Rodriguez. “You have developers who want a 200% to 300% return, and that’s what’s happening here.”