The Concordia Group made a presentation to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) yesterday.
Although there was and still appears to be general approval of the concept of development of the property as proposed by Concordia, questions had been raised previously about the procedure for the adoption of an ordinance to re-zone 400 Reed (Mt. Sinai). In order to clarify the situation, President Ted Savage sent the following letter to the PCPC:
19 May 2015
Members of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission:
Thank you for allowing this letter to be read on my behalf. I am a Democratic committee person and have election duties today.
As president of Dickinson Square West Civic Association, the affected RCO, I am concerned about the irregular procedure being followed for the biggest project recently proposed for South Philly.
It is my understanding that your staff’s recommendation may be to approve this zoning bill, with the stipulation that the attached Master Plan be amended following Civic Design Review and input from the RCO. I do appreciate such an effort to incorporate the community’s voice and the design expertise of the CDR committee. This approach is vastly preferable to an approval without such a condition. Nevertheless, I respectfully request that the Commission not approve the Master Plan at this time, even with the stipulation. It is unclear whether this Commission can or will issue a legally binding proviso. Merely to use a proviso leaves open significant room for disagreement and confusion, regarding what entity can determine whether Concordia has sufficiently incorporated CDR and/or RCO recommendations. This would continue this already irregular process with an unknown outcome. Further, the Commission should not recommend approval, since Concordia simply has not done the work typically expected of a developer who seeks approval by this body.
In February of this year, Concordia presented a previous draft of this site plan to the Dickinson Square West Civic Association, asserting that this was very preliminary, the first of many presentations, and that they would be open to revisions based on community input. At the meeting, the general consensus was approval of the concept of a development of this scope/scale. However, there were objections to particular considerations and many suggestions for changes that would improve the project. I believe that, if attendees had then known that the meeting would be their final opportunity to give input prior to master plan adoption, certainly there would have been additional comments, and those comments would not have been offered in the framework of “friendly amendments.” Since that February meeting, many members of Dickinson Square West Civic Association and residents and neighbors have expressed through social media concerns about certain design considerations, specific zoning restrictions, how this proposed development follows PlanPhilly 2035, what impact would re-zoning have if Concordia did not start, let alone complete the project, etc. Those preliminary, informal comments and concerns that were offered at that meeting, along with those provided through social media, were collected and sent as a letter to Concordia. I am also troubled about a change in zoning to RMX-2 with no restrictions. Previously Concordia offered to meet to discuss including restrictions we required, but that meeting has yet to occur.
Since that meeting and letter, Concordia produced a second site plan, the one being reviewed today. This plan has not been presented to the community. This plan substantially ignores comments sent in our original letter, seemingly responding only to a demand made by the Fire Department to eliminate streets that would inaccessible to their trucks. Just last month Concordia has responded to the objections and requests of community members by stating that they’ve already gotten Fire Department and Water Department approval of this plan, so they are unwilling to make any further changes. Surprisingly there is no acknowledgment of the Planning Commission’s work on the South District Plan for PlanPhilly 2035.
This project involves the redevelopment of a historic and neighborhood landmark encompassing an entire city block in Dickinson Square West, a neighborhood recently named by a national real estate data base firm as the “second hottest neighborhood in America in 2015”. The approval of a Master Plan is one of the few cases when the Planning Commission has final say in the outcome of projects. If this matter before you today is not one, for which the Commission would demand thorough community involvement and design excellence, what would be? By Concordia’s own admission, this plan is essentially half-baked, with many substantial design decisions not yet made, such that it is not even ready for review by CDR. And yet, they are still asking for approval of the plan by this body. With all due respect, I ask you then, do you even know what you would be approving?
If the Commission does not recommend approval of this bill with the master plan attached, City Council can still pass the zoning bill without the master plan attached, and 400 Reed would be tentatively rezoned RMX-2, something to which I, and most community members, do not object, if there were specific restrictions on multi-family units. Alternatively, the Commission could recommend approval of the bill with a statement that is does not approve the master plan. In either case, there would be no ambiguity regarding the Commission’s position on the master plan. Concordia would have to meet with Dickinson Square West Civic and then with CDR before returning for the approval. This is the intended and intelligent procedure. On behalf of our neighborhood, I ask that it be followed.
Thank you again for permitting this letter to be read into the record and for your careful consideration of all of the issues raised.
President, Dickinson Square West Civic Association
Coverage of that PCPC hearing was published today by PLANPHILLY at: http://planphilly.com/articles/2015/05/20/rancor-rises-over-redevelopment-of-mt-sinai-hospital
Any updates, including the date of the CDR, will be posted here.
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