Our work to advance conservation and preservation

by Lori Salganicoff, Executive Director, Chestnut Hill Conservancy
Posted 4/4/24

The CH Conservancy and FOW will do everything in our power to ensure and encourage a responsible and sustainable development at Greylock.

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Our work to advance conservation and preservation


As most in the community are aware, the Chestnut Hill Conservancy and Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) have remained relatively quiet about the zoning variances sought by the current owner of Greylock, and the related public Registered Community Organization (RCO) deliberations. Neither the Conservancy nor FOW participated in the recent variance process for Greylock, to avoid conflicts between our RCO and easement holder roles with this project.

The Conservancy and FOW maintain a joint program (CEC) to acquire and manage conservation (land protection) and preservation (historic building facade protection) easements in partnership with property owners, for the benefit of present and future generations, the community, and the Wissahickon. The Conservancy is the accredited land trust holding 52 such easements and overseeing the program, including on the Greylock property. 

Enforcing as written the conservation and preservation easements we hold is always our first goal and priority. Amendments to easements are rare but as described by Pennsylvania’s statewide land trust organization, “the world changes and so do understandings of how best to meet conservation objectives.”

Land trusts recognize that it may be necessary or desirable on rare occasions to modify the terms of its easements, but the Conservancy will do so only in accordance with applicable laws and only for uses that have a beneficial effect on the conservation and preservation values they protect.  The Conservancy approaches this with the overarching questions: “What action would best advance conservation and preservation in the public interest consistent with the land trust’s mission?” Equally important: “What action would best support the objectives of the easements that are the subjects of the proposed change?” 

When engaging informally with owners, potential owners, and developers about possible plans for an eased property (including Greylock), the discussion begins with the easement as written. Any formal proposal submitted to the Conservancy must provide sufficient details about project aspects that could require an amendment to the easement. 

At the owner’s request, the joint CEC informally reviewed an initial version of the current proposal, which presented concepts for the project that were similar to but not the same as the development plans currently being considered by ZBA. In late 2022, the joint committee voted to grant conceptual approval, an informal and preliminary analysis of an early-stage proposal's potential to meet easement goals if certain additional conditions are met. 

The owner/developer has not presented the most recent plan to the joint committee for discussion and review, as they chose to pursue zoning variances first. No formal proposal with these details has yet been presented to us. Greylock’s owner has publicly shared an intention to approach the Conservancy with a formal proposal and request to amend the easements now that the Greylock variance request has progressed to the Zoning Board of Adjustment.  

Discussions and negotiations between the property owner and the land trust are confidential as easements are private agreements between an owner and a land trust such as the Conservancy. Nevertheless, it is important to understand our rigorous approach to considering amendments to easements.

Proposed easement amendments must align with the easements' objectives, our Easement Amendment Policy, Land Trust Alliance standards, and legal requirements, including perpetual duration, public benefit, compliance with federal law, and avoidance of impermissible private benefit (i.e. the private benefit of the amendment must not outweigh its public benefit).

Final approval of amendments rests with the Chestnut Hill Conservancy's board of directors, whose members include owners of eased properties, Greylock's close neighbors, and respected members of the Chestnut Hill community. Complex proposals undergo further review by the Attorney General and the Orphans' Court.

Working together with the owners of eased properties, our joint easement program upholds an easement’s goals while emphasizing responsible stewardship. We maintain a collaborative and confidential approach with property owners to achieve each easement's conservation and preservation goals and share the responsibility of upholding the goals of easements with those owners. 

As this project progresses, the Conservancy and FOW will do everything in our power to ensure and encourage a responsible and sustainable development that protects the property’s natural resources and maintains the appearance and structures of a historic country estate.