40th & Pine hardship appeal in the homestretch, probably

The Board of L&I Review held the penultimate hearing—fingers crossed, ain’t-too-proud-to-beg style—on the appeal of a hardship designation for the historic property at 400 S. 40th Street Tuesday afternoon. Matt McClure, a Ballard Spahr attorney representing the University of Pennsylvania, which owns the building, called two witnesses during the hearing.

Penn’s attorneys have one more witness to call: Jonathan Weiss, of Equinox, who has proposed a five-story apartment building for grad students on the site. Paul Boni, attorney for the appellants, needs to finish his cross-examination of Paul Sehnert, Penn’s director of real estate development, from a previous hearing. Sehnert was apparently unable to attend Tuesday’s hearing.

And then it’s over … until, no matter the outcome, the likely appeal from one side or the other. And thus, as the poet wrote, the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.

On Tuesday, McClure called Jim Hoolehan, vice president of operations for Blue Rock Construction, a company which Penn consulted for cost estimates on rehabbing the building. Hoolehan was accepted by the Board as an expert in cost estimation. In 2011, Hoolehan produced a report which said it would cost $207 per square foot to rehabilitate the building in conjunction with an earlier proposal which would have kept the structure and added a 7-story apartment building behind it. Hoolehan said the building is in poor condition, that its foundation has settled significantly, and that a turret is visibly askew.

On cross examination, Paul Boni sought to poke holes in that estimate. He was able to get Hoolehan to agree that portions of the rehabilitation could be accomplished for more or less money than the report estimated depending on how the work was done and what the development proposal was.

David Hollenberg, head architect for Penn, was then accepted as an expert in historic preservation. Hollenberg, who was among those who presented the hardship application for the building to the Historical Commission last spring, testified that he approaches the demolition of any historic structure with “great sadness and gravity.” He said that Penn had a more-or-less “continuous track record of trying to save the building,” but that there was near-complete community opposition to the earlier 7-story proposal that would have kept the building intact. He admitted, on cross-examination, that Penn had never offered the building for an outright sale since acquiring it in 2002.

Then the Board adjourned.

PlanPhilly readers will recall that the Zoning Board of Adjustment approved a set of variances for the proposed development on the 40th & Pine site—presuming it is demolished—last November. As the whirligig of time would have it, the same group fighting the Historical Commission’s hardship designation recently filed an appeal of the ZBA decision with the Court of Common Pleas.

Contact the reporter at jbrey@planphilly.com and follow him on Twitter @jaredbrey

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