Demolition Now in University's Hands
May 8, 2015 — Friends:
The decision to save or demolish the historic mansion at 40th and Pine is now entirely in the hands of the University of Pennsylvania. After careful consideration we have decided not to continue legal appeals to overturn the hardship claim and the recent removal of prerequisites. We do not take this decision lightly; at the same time, we will continue to fight the excessive zoning variances in our determination to protect the character of our historic neighborhood.
As you may know, in December the University sought and received approval to remove key prerequisites for demolition from the Historical Commission. These were guarantees repeatedly stated by the University's representatives that no demolition would occur until financing and all permits for the apartment building were in place. On April 22 the Commonwealth Court upheld the Historical Commission's decision to allow demolition based on their interpretation of financial hardship.
We do believe that the Court's decision is fundamentally wrong because it gave unwarranted deference to the Historical Commission for this case. In doing so, the Court allowed the Commission to reinterpret the law and ignored facts, some of which were known to the Commission, but also many other facts that were only revealed later, during the appeals process.
We are disappointed with the Court's decision because:
a. the Commission's own consultant admitted that the house could be reused under at least one other redevelopment scheme for the property.
b. the University did not offer the property for sale to find out if any other owner was interested in reusing it . The obligation to attempt a sale is a clear and unambiguous provision of Philadelphia’s Historic Preservation law.
c. Penn representatives admitted that they feared someone could buy the historic mansion if it were put up for sale.
Our efforts to collaborate with the University and the developer for a better plan have not advanced very far. Unfortunately, when analyzed, the scheme that Penn & the developer showed to the Spruce Hill Zoning Committee offers little in the way of preservation. The house itself would be a shell, reoriented to face Pine Street; it would have been shadowed and obscured by an apartment building that choked it.
There are many other historic houses in the surrounding neighborhood. There are houses in far worse condition that have been preserved and put to use. We showed that there were other developers who would be willing to purchase the property and save it from demolition. Penn can do better and still has the opportunity to do so.