Hearing on 40th Street mansion yields few decisions
Representatives from both sides of the fight over demolition participated in a cross-examination
February 12, 2013, 9:28 pm·
Meredith Stern | DP
No decision was made at Tuesday’s hearing over the controversy concerning the demolition of the historic villa at 400 South 40th Street.
“It was all too familiar,” said assistant professor of Landscape Architecture and Historic Preservation Aaron Wunsch, who attended today’s hearing. “Nothing conclusive happened.”
The hearings, which are conducted in front of the Philadelphia Licenses and Inspections Review Board, have been occurring since last May, yet no real progress has been made.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Jonathan Weiss, a developer from Equinox Properties — the company that helped Penn design the demolition plan — was cross-examined by the lawyer representing the Woodland Terrace Homeowners Association. Paul Sehnert, Penn’s Facilities and Real Estate Services executive director of real estate development, was also cross-examined.
Paul Boni, the attorney representing Woodland Terrace — the party fighting for the preservation of the historic villa — has been building his case around the possibility that the villa can be preserved and reused for the University’s benefit.
Despite this possibility, “Penn is adamant that the neighborhood won’t let them build higher than five stories,” Wunsch said. “And this is where the case gets stuck … Every time we think this case is about to finally make its case through the Licenses and Inspections Board, it drags on yet again.”
Wunsch expects that even when the board makes a decision, the case will ultimately be taken to court.
For now, the prolonging of the case may have one positive. It will give more time for the group of School of Design graduate students to further develop their adaptive reuse plan for the villa.
“We are dedicated to pursuing this alternative option and we want to get our plan in front of the University Architects and representatives of FRES,” said Kevin Wohlgemuth, a first-year graduate student in PennDesign’s historic preservation program.
“[The] students are asking the right questions, they are asking why Penn can’t use this building to further their educational mission,” Wunsch said.
Wunsch added that the students should now spend time figuring out how the plan can work financially so that they can present FRES with a cohesive plan.
“These hearings seems interminable and everyone hates being there but it opens up a window for these guys to get back to work,” Wunsch said. “That’s my real source of hope.”