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Abandoned House at 40th and Pine Credit: Brian Shmerling

Parents looking for lodging in University City while visiting their children could soon have a more affordable option if the proposal for a new off-campus hotel is approved by local organizations and the University's Board of Trustees.

A coalition made up of Campus Apartments, private developer Tom Lussenhop and the real-estate company Hersha Hospitality are in the process of developing and approving a plan to lease a site from the University on the corner of 40th and Pine streets. But the coalition's plans for an 11-story extended-stay hotel have sparked controversy among neighborhood residents and organizations.

The hotel, which could open as soon as fall 2009, would be part of the Hilton franchise, Lussenhop said.

There are currently only three other hotels in University City - the Inn at Penn, the Sheraton, and Penn Towers - all of which are owned by the University.

Lussenhop, who was Penn's managing director of real estate in the 1990s, said the new hotel would serve as a less pricey option. He cited tentative prices as under $200 a night, and said rates would drop significantly for guests staying longer than five days.

Lussenhop also said the hotel is a much-needed project because there is currently no extended-stay hotel in the area for families of patients staying at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

"The health system is growing," Lussenhop said. "It needs anything that can facilitate that growth and make guest and patient stays more comfortable."

The proposed site for the hotel is a significant source of contention for local residents. While the developers maintain that the 40th Street corridor is commercial, many residents say the area is a residential neighborhood and that an 11-story buidling is not appropriate.

Mary Goldman, a resident of the 4100 block of Pine Street, has lived in the neighborhood since 1959. One of her chief complaints is the height of the hotel, which she worries will block light and create wind tunnels near her home.

To address concerns about the hotel's height and mass, the architect revised the plans to include a three-story transitional building that sets the highest portion of the hotel back from the street, Lussenhop said.

The project, which Penn Director of Real Estate Development Paul Sehnert estimated at $20 million, cannot be approved until the Trustees vote on it. Sehnert said the vote will most likely come sometime in the early spring.

"The developer has got to do a lot of work to demonstrate that this deal makes sense," Sehnert said. He would not speculate on the likelihood of Trustee approval.

In addition, the coalition must apply to the Spruce Hill Community Association for commercial zoning, which Campus Apartments President David Adelman said it will do in early January.

Both Adelman and Lussenhop said they expect to receive the commercial zoning variance.

"I think the hotel is needed," Lussenhop said. "Needed projects have a way of getting approved."

If approved, the hotel project would include refurbishing the "Italianate" mansion, a designated historical marker, that is currently on site. Belynda Stewart, president of the University City Historical Society, said the group has not yet reached a consensus on the hotel project, but supports renovation of the mansion.

Goldman also said she worried the hotel would cause traffic problems and make already "ferocious" parking impossible.

But valet parking will be available for hotel guests at the parking garage on 38th and Spruce streets, Lussenhop said, adding that guests would also be able to use the nearby trolley station at 40th and Baltimore streets to navigate the city.

Goldman's concerns, however, have not been allayed.

"There's got to be a place that's equally convenient to the hospital that's not right in the backyard of all these people," she said.

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