For almost two years now Chestnut Hill College has been engaged in a series of tough negotiations with the Chestnut Hill Community Association and several neighbor groups. Their proposed expansion of the main campus, as well as the smaller campus at Sugarloaf Hill, has raised the eyebrows and, occasionally ire of several neighborhood groups.
Last night representatives from the college, representatives from the landscape architects charged with designing the expansion, the Community Association, and residents of the Hill gathered at the Chateau on Sugarloaf Hill to discuss the final plans for the proposed expansion.
So far, seven of nine neighborhood groups have agreed to and voted for the proposed expansion. The dissenting groups - The Northwest-Wissahickon Conservancy and the North Chestnut Hill Neighbors have so far not cast a vote either way and were not represented at the meeting.
President of Chestnut Hill College, Carol Jean Vale spoke at the start of the meeting, detailing the sheer scope of the past two years’ undertaking.
“I doubt anyone would believe the number of hours we put in to reach this agreement,” said Vale. “Suffice it to say they number in the hundreds.”
Vale said that the great deal of anxiety on the colleges planned expansion forced a series of deferments on finalization of the college’s master plan. From the fall of 2009 until now, the deferments have been piling up as the college attempts to appease all parties involved.
Vale’s message was clear, however. Although the college would like to have a unanimous consensus from the nine groups, they’re moving ahead with the renovations regardless.
“Representatives from these two groups, that to this point have voted neither yay or nay, have made significant contributions to the discussion,” Vale said. “There’s never been a time that we stepped away from negotiating with these groups. The reality, though, is we have four lawsuits from those groups that we’re facing. I am not closing the door, but I also think that it’s time to move forward.”
At one point in the meeting, members of the community were invited to speak before the college and the community association. The majority of opinions appeared to be in favor of the expansion.
“[Chestnut Hill College] is one of the greatest institutions that separates us from all the other neighborhoods in Philadelphia,” said Bill Lamb, who introduced himself as a third-generation resident of the Hill. “I think it’s time to get behind this thing and move forward.”
The crowd applauded Lamb's remarks.
The proposed expansion includes plans for a 450 car, partially-submerged, two-story parking garage on Sugarloaf Hill. The mansion, cottage, and pool house will remain untouched, preserved as historical structures of the original estate.
Academic buildings will be built on top of and next to the garage which will serve as a foundation of sorts for the new structures.
One of the primary goals is to increase the amount of the beds at the school, effectively transforming it from a commuter school to a live-on campus for students. Under the proposed master plan, the school will have the capacity to house 83% of the undergraduate class.
They are also approaching the expansion from an environmentally-friendly standpoint. The college received a Going Greener grant from Pennsylvania, designating ten acres of land that they won’t touch in exchange for funding.
The community was reassured that under the terms of the CDA, in the unlikely event that the college should sell the property the buyer must accept the CDA. If they don’t, they must go through the rigorous process of applying for new zoning.
Although nothing was officially decided at the meeting and no votes were cast, one theme was abundantly clear: the wheels are in motion.
More information about the proposed expansion can be found at Chestnut Hill College’s website.