Residents await plans for former EPPI building in East Falls

 Settlement was made last month for the purchase of the site of the former Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute in East Falls by NewCourtland Senior Services. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Settlement was made last month for the purchase of the site of the former Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute in East Falls by NewCourtland Senior Services. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Settlement was made last month for the purchase of the site of the former Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute in East Falls by NewCourtland Senior Services.

The Pennsylvania Department of General Services had accepted NewCourtland’s bid of $2.1 million for the 14-acre site last fall, and the sale was finalized by the state in early January.

NewCourtland’s design plans for the property have not yet been made public, and the surrounding community is still hoping its vision for the prominent site at 3232 Henry Ave. will be considered when redevelopment begins.

NewCourtland saw “an opportunity to put a nice parcel in their inventory, and it came at an attractive price,” said state Rep. Pamela DeLissio. “But there will be no bulldozers anytime soon.”

‘How we got to this point’

Representatives of NewCourtland met with the East Falls Community Council in mid-January to present the company’s model for affordable senior housing and community-based services.

“The residents of the area have definite ideas of what they don’t want to see — and that’s an institutional use” for the site, DeLissio said. “There had been legislation that existed that said a sale could not take place without community input. But that legislation had sunseted and was no longer in play,” she said. “The community felt blindsided” by the sale of the property.

The January meeting “served the purpose of asking how we got to this point. People have now accepted that we are where we are,” DeLissio said. “But the community made it clear at that meeting that they wanted to still have input.”

Institutional history

The EPPI property was part of the state hospital system beginning in 1949. The facilities closed in the 1970s as the patient population was reduced across Pennsylvania. Operations at the Henry Avenue site were transferred to the Medical College of Pennsylvania, which used the main building as a psychiatric facility until 2006. In 2008, the property was leased to the city for use as the Youth Study Center until a new facility was opened in 2013.

The vacant buildings in East Falls were put up for bid in 2013 as part of the Corbett administration’s plan to sell surplus property to generate revenue. The state promoted the property as a convenient location to highways and mass transit and a development opportunity that could serve the surrounding communities.

The site failed to attract a successful bid. It was offered for sale again in March 2014, and NewCourtland made the acceptable bid.

NewCourtland did not return requests for comment for this article.

Mixed-use solutions

According to DeLissio, the site is large enough to encompass a variety of uses, and “there are lots of interesting models out there.”

She cited Stadium Place in Baltimore, a community for more than 300 older adults that provides long-term care, short-term rehabilitation and mixed-income housing, as well as retail stores, a beauty salon and computer lab. Similar developments can provide affordable housing, offices for a nonprofit and a community center.

“This parcel is large, and it warrants some master planning,” DeLissio said. “I’m interested in convening that discussion to see what can be built around NewCourtland’s core idea.”

“People are vested in this, and they still want to be vested in this,” she said. “My goal is to try and facilitate that participation.”

PlanPhilly is now a project of WHYY/NewsWorks. It began in 2006 as an initiative of Penn Praxis inside the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. Though now part of WHYY, PlanPhilly still works closely with Penn Praxis in covering planning, zoning and development news. Contact Alan Jaffe at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

 

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