President Ted Savage has forwarded a letter from our Zoning Committee to our Councilman Mark Squilla, and he noted: “The writers have worked diligently to synthesize the comments and concerns and suggestions expressed by residents about the Concordia proposal for the development of the Mt Sinai site. I believe that they have succinctly and very successfully done so.” That letter is as follows:
March 25, 2015
To: Councilman Mark Squilla, Concordia principals and D3
After carefully reviewing and considering your plans to redevelop the Mt. Sinai block, and hearing the comments of our neighbors and the larger community, the Dickinson Square West Civic Association can tell you that the overall impression is extremely positive. While many are disappointed by the decision not to rehabilitate older portions of the Mt. Sinai hospital building, we are all looking forward to a superior and special development. However, a number of items have repeatedly emerged during conversations with neighbors and we list them in categories below. In addition, the most greatly affected neighbors on the north side of Dickinson Street have some concerns, which are set forth separately- they have offered to appoint one representative to meet with you, if necessary.
It is our understanding that you intend to seek a zoning change for the parcel rather than to seek variances through the Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBA). While we look forward to working with you during Community Design Review (CDR) that will follow, several members of the community have expressed concern that, without review by the ZBA or other city agency, this process will be purely advisory and will not generate binding conditions or provisos. With the exception of those zoning categories that require the approval of a Master Plan, a zoning change and/or overlay offers no assurances that the community’s concerns will be taken into account. Thus, regardless of the approach that Concordia takes with regard to the entitlements process, we will appeal to Councilman Squilla to ensure that our voices be heard and incorporated into the final project plan as enforceable requirements under whatever change methodology is finally determined. We seek to work cooperatively.
As you can see, we have listed the major items of concern in separate categories below, not in any particular order, culled from the many letters and on-line postings we have read, as well as conversations we have had, related to this project. Please let us know when representatives of the Civic Association can meet with you to offer input into any planned zoning changes, as well as to develop the Homeowners Agreement (HOA), to ensure long term satisfaction for the neighborhood, including your buyers:
- More trees/shrubs and greenery, especially in walkways and on perimeter- ideally at least
- one tree per house facing existing streets. The pedestrian passages in Society Hill (off Spruce Street and Pine Street between Third and Fifth) can serve as examples of lovely peaceful public walkways that are inviting, but complement the housing
- A number of neighbors believe the walkways through the site should follow the old Gerritt and Wilder Streets and be at least 16 feet wide, to allow sightlines from Fourth to Fifth and be less discouraging to the neighborhood to walk through.
- Faucets in fronts of houses and on decks for ease of watering plants and cleaning
- Permanent planters on perimeter
- Install bike racks at appropriate spots
- A large number of comments received wished to see a corner of the development with commercial or office space as a means of activating street life and serving the 200-300 new residents that will accompany the project. Another suggestion was to place the commercial space at the ingress and egress corners with sidewalk tables, giving the block movement and life.
- However, there were also many community members that prefer a residential-only approach, given the proximity of retail opportunities and vacant retail space on Passyunk, Washington, and Moyamensing Avenues.
- Some neighbors suggest a parking lot or garage on the site, but the vast majority of comments we have received do not support that use. The people on Dickinson Street do not want a garage behind their homes. There is prevailing sentiment that the “parking issue” should not stop this project.
- Several community members had questions about the plans for lighting and security cameras (if any). Many suggested that interior campus lighting, including on the through walkways, should match the style of the housing.
- Utilities must be put underground
- Near neighbors request that condensers be placed away from adjoining house party walls to minimize vibrations
Concerns/Suggestions from Dickinson Street
- Two proposed houses are far too close to the rear yards of the existing 419-433 Dickinson Street properties- there must be at least 9 feet green space on the north side of the easement line instead of using the two foot easement as separation as proposed. (The eastern end of the development has green space behind about half of the existing properties which is desirable and should be replicated for the western end). This is a serious concern.
- Any fencing should be metal estate fencing, particularly that behind the existing Dickinson Street houses, it will look nicer for your houses as well and avoid the two foot concrete tunnel (which is objected to) now set forth on the plan. You could re-use the old iron fencing from the front of the original Mt. Sinai building as noted above to add a unique touch.
- The neighbors on the north side of Dickinson Street recognize that the backs of their houses could use sprucing up and, to the extent possible, they intend to make those improvements so the new homeowners are looking at something nice.
- They will appoint one representative to communicate with you if that becomes necessary
- Establish an HOA, including a neighborhood liaison to help develop HOA framework and rules.
- The HOA must designate a property manager tasked with caring for the campus once development is complete and include a neighborhood liaison on HOA board.
- Except during the initial sales period, no signage shall be constructed that does not conform to the requirements of the existing zoning designation
- No single family house will ever be converted to a multifamily unit property, nor will any multifamily units be built (aside from any approved as a part of the final project plan)
- Garages may never be used as another room, though the HOA will permit the leasing of garage space to parties other than the homeowner
- No gates are to be installed, this was represented not to be a gated community
- Walkways will never be gated.
- No decks are to be put above the fourth story; decks in front of or behind the fourth story are acceptable if they observe set-back requirements.
- Regulate allowable locations for grilling.
Suggestions for Reuse of Historic Materials
- A number of neighbors are disappointed the historic structure will not be saved because it is a beacon if for nothing more than its height and bulk. It is easily identifiable when flying in to PHL, or driving up I-95. There is a realization that this project will not be preserving any existing building and the neighborhood likes what they have seen so far. They do want to honor that which went before and have ideas for reuse set forth in this section.
- Reuse the limestone name block “Mt. Sinai” from the Fifth Street Entrance, the cornerstone, and the limestone columns on Fifth Street. We suggest incorporating these items into the fabric of the development, for example the columns could frame the two ingress/egress drives and the name panel and cornerstone could be embedded within the development, maybe with a water feature.
- There is a strong desire for this project to contribute to the character of the community, that is, offer distinctive elements and creative design in the public spaces. Overall the neighborhood is extremely pleased with the design and width variation of the proposed housing, we would just like it taken to the next level in the public spaces.
- Reuse the iron fencing from around the old hospital, most of the fencing is on Fifth Street. It could, for example, be used behind the existing Dickinson Street properties along the east/west line to frame the new housing. Alternatively the Dickinson Street owners would like that fencing for the backs of their properties if the developer is inclined not to reuse it.
Possible Upgrade Option Ideas to Offer New Homeowners
- Several residents suggested an elevator in the properties as an upgrade. After showing these plans to retired suburban professionals who want to move to the City, that was a common question—is there an elevator. An elevator would also allow handicapped access and make some units available for wheelchair access.
- The community would like construction work to stop by 5 pm. Weekdays 7 am –5 pm, Saturdays 8 am – 5 pm, Sunday no work..
- The community would like extra efforts made to control the dust, mud and trash on the job site
- The community would like to know what provisions will be made for after-hours security and if the chain link fencing will remain while construction is ongoing, which would provide some security for equipment and so forth
- The community would like a construction liaison named for contact if a problem arises so it can be addressed promptly and with a minimum of disruption to the job or the neighbors
We look forward to any further discussions, and the launch of this project. As we are sending this letter through our president, Ted Savage, we suggest that he may be a good continuing contact on these points.
Zoning Committee, Dickinson Square West Civic Association