Philadelphia’s older suburbs appear to be caught between two competing development phenomena: increasing population density and preserving historic older buildings. Increased population density brings with it demand for more housing and commercial services. The latter acts as a brake on development even if a new project is clearly beneficial. This conflict has prompted the Chestnut Hill Community Association (“CHCA”) to create a task force to guide future rezoning and land use in ways that will preserve and protect the community’s historic fabric.
The task force was created after a presentation to the CHCA by the executive director of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, Lori Salganicoff. Salganicoff said that Chestnut Hill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 but that the community now faces a “tsunami of possible new development on the horizon. To demonstrate the level of concern, Salganicoff pointed to a large house on Chestnut Hill Avenue. The demolition permits for the house were issued on the day that the developer took possession. The Historical Society was able to prevent demolition, but all trees on the property were cut down.
The CHCA Board’s response was supportive. One member observed that increases in land values in Chestnut Hill have increased to the point where historic preservation can become uneconomic. Land values have increased to the point where a developer can make a significant profit by replacing a historic structure with new commercial or residential development. The task force will solicit members from many different preservation organizations and the development community.
The task force is certain to examine existing zoning, the use of preservation easements, and the improvements in the process for approving new development. The City of Philadelphia is also considering changes to its zoning map to accommodate both historic preservation and new commercial and residential development. The zoning process in Philadelphia and its environs is likely to become more complex before it becomes simplified. Anyone contemplating selling a historic property or purchasing and re-developing such a tract might wish to consult with a knowledgeable real estate attorney for an evaluation of existing zoning regulations and likely changes that may affect the ways in which the land can be used.
Source: Chestnut Hill Local, “Proposed task force to protect Hill’s history,” Kevin Dicciani, March 1, 2016, updated March 3, 2016