CHHS Considers CHC Sugarloaf Master Plan

As has been reported in the Local, Chestnut Hill College (CHC) proposes to develop the 30+ acre “Sugarloaf” estate as part of a multi-decade program to expand the size of the college, and is requesting that the property be rezoned as an Institutional Development District (IDD). A 500-page Master Plan outlining the proposed development has been drafted by a team consisting of architects SaylorGregg, landscape architects Andropogon Associates, Ltd., and others.

In keeping with our mission to preserve and nurture the historical, physical and cultural resources and the character of Chestnut Hill, the Chestnut Hill Historical Society has initiated a series of meetings with the College and the project team and we are currently reviewing the proposed plan.

It must be stated at the outset that we firmly support the vitality of the College as an important part of the health of our community. We applaud the College and its design team for the thoroughness of their efforts to date, particularly in the aspects of the Plan that provide community amenities such as a green space buffer on the perimeter of the property and a public recreational path. We also appreciate the team’s efforts in planning for storm water management and other sustainable practices. It must also be stated that the Historical Society approaches historic preservation as the careful management of change, rather than simply obstructing it.

We understand that the College feels compelled by business reasons to seek the zoning change. There are a number of key matters that must be considered very carefully in light of the proposed plan, however, which has the potential to become the most momentous change in our community since the development of Market Square.

It is our position that all of the potential negative effects of the project on our historic and natural resources, as well on the historic and cultural character of Chestnut Hill in general, must be defined, evaluated, and adequately and appropriately addressed in order for the community to endorse a plan for the College. It is also our position that alternatives should be responsibly explored for any potential adverse effects on historic and cultural resources that can be expected to result from the proposed Plan.

The Sugarloaf property as a whole is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as one of the most important resources in our National Register Historic District. The historic components of this property include both its buildings and their landscape garden setting, which includes not only many specimen trees and lawn areas, but such built features as a series of carefully placed and constructed garden walls that define levels and spaces.

Until relatively recently, the buildings inventoried in the National Register Nomination all survived. Three have been removed by the College because of their poor condition. While this may be understandable, we regret that there was no consultation with the community on possibilities for the preservation or re-use of part of their fabric or measures that would have recorded information about their construction or configuration for future generations. We wonder, for example, if part of the ruins of the former cottages might have been incorporated in some way into the proposed elevated path that is to parallel Germantown Avenue. Several other buildings and their historic landscape setting survive on the Sugarloaf property, and their preservation must be addressed, given the fact that the plan that is part of the proposed IDD eliminates all but one of these structures. Further, the effect of the plan on other resources of the Historic District, including adjacent and nearby properties, must also be thoroughly evaluated. The potential negative effects are multiple, and include the deprivation of light and air, noise, and generally negative change in historic setting. As part of the community’s due diligence with respect to this proposed plan, we submit that these likely negative effects must be addressed and mitigated in order to win the community’s endorsement for the plan and the proposed IDD.

Three committees of the Historical Society are now addressing these matters in a coordinated effort: the Historic District Advisory Committee (HDAC), chaired by Patricia Cove, a past president of CHHS; the Preservation Advocacy Committee, chaired by Emily Cooperman, Ph.D., Principal of ARCH Preservation Consulting; and the joint CHHS/FOW Easement Committee, co-chaired by Shirley Gracie of Eichler & Moffly Realtors and Karren A. DeSeve, partner in the law firm of Baumann, DeSeve & Landau).

We also continue to work closely with the Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW), our partner on many conservation issues, and hope to speak with one voice about the CHC proposal.

The CHC Master Plan is both ambitious and complex, and requires a methodical review. We are giving this issue our urgent attention. We will, of course, speak to these issues in the DRC meeting on October 20.

Frank Niepold
President, CHHS Board of Directors

Chestnut Hill Historical Society - 8708 Germantown Ave. - Philadelphia PA 19118 - 215 247-0417 -
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