Historical Commission grants Penn hardship, tables demo case for Episcopal Cathedral

At Friday’s Historical Commission Meeting two important, and unusual hardship cases in West Philadelphia dominated the nearly eight-hour session. Penn was granted its request to demolish a property it owns at 40th and Pine, while the Episcopal Cathedral at 38th and Chestnut will have to wait for a future hearing for its hardship outcome.

The University of Pennsylvania received permission to demolish a historic, but badly altered, Italianate mansion at the corner of 40th and Pine, with a vote of six to three (with one abstention).

Penn has attempted to find a new use for the building since 2003. The University’s latest market-driven attempt resulted in a proposal for a seven-story residential building to be constructed alongside a restored mansion.

The Historical Commission previously approved that plan at its meeting in October 2011, as PlanPhilly reported, but neighbors balked and called for a lower-scale building.

Next the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral presented a hardship application, with the assistance of Neil Sklaroff, an attorney with Ballard Spahr. The Cathedral is applying for permission to demolish two historically designated rowhouses on its campus at 38th and Chestnut streets in order to build a 25-story residential tower that they say will support its mission, social services, and create a stream of revenue that will enable restoration work to the historic Cathedral building.

The Episcopal Cathedral is seeking permission for this demolition under a different hardship provision called “necessary public interest,” which is a stricter test, but one that is less clearly defined in the preservation ordinance than financial hardship. The Commission’s past positions on this type of hardship have concentrated on whether or not a proposed project will result in a broad public benefit.

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