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Mansion demolition ends Philadelphia preservation dispute

Philadelphia has many old neighborhoods, and many of the buildings in these neighborhoods - whether they are residential, commercial or industrial - are imbued with historic significance. The historic significance of a particular structure has often been advanced as a reason for denying a rezoning or conditional use permit to prevent demolition of the structure. One such dispute has evidently been resolved by the destruction of the building in question after the zoning board granted the necessary permission.

In 2003, the University of Pennsylvania purchased a mansion at 400 S. 40th Street, known locally as the "40th and Pine Mansion," in order to build new student housing. The mansion was built in the 1850s by architect Samuel Sloan. When the University announced its plans to redevelop the site, the Woodland Terrace Homeowners Association resisted, arguing that the mansion's historic significance required its preservation. Penn was apparently willing to preserve the building and incorporate it into its plan for the student housing, but the Homeowners Association was not satisfied with any of the compromise plans that Penn put forth.

Penn finally obtained a hardship variance, an action by the city Historic Preservation Commission that determined that the mansion was "so blighted that its reuse was not feasible." The grant of the hardship variance was contested by the Homeowners Association before the Board of License and Review and two courts. The grant of the hardship variance was approved, and demolition began on August 22 of this year. The mansion is gone, and Penn is now awaiting resolution of another appeal by the Homeowners Association before it can proceed with redevelopment of the site.

This case demonstrates the difficulties of redeveloping urban property with historic significance. Anyone contemplating such a project may wish to consult an attorney who specializes in zoning and land use matters for an evaluation of the circumstances and an analysis of the applicable laws, ordinances and regulations.

Source: Daily Pennsylvanian, "Historic mansion demolished by Penn despite pushback from neighborhood," Pat Zancolli, Sep. 2, 2015

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