Mt. Sinai zoning variance appeal dropped; no word on huge residential project's status

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An appeal of the zoning variances granted to the developer hoping to turn Dickinson Square West's vacant Mt. Sinai Hospital into a large residential development is being withdrawn.

The appeal document gives no reason why it was filed, but the attorney representing appellant Melissa Miller said she was “initially upset when she found out such a large project had already been approved.” Attorney Zhen Jin said his client never got the community meeting notice, so she filed the zoning variance appeal before the 30-day deadline, on April 10, “so she had a chance to be heard.”

But after reviewing the plans and talking to neighbors, Jin said Miller was “ok with” the development proposal and told him to file a discontinuance of the appeal.

The impact of the appeal, and now its demise, are uncertain.

Talk around both Dickinson Square and nearby Pennsport, which has also held civic meetings with developer Greenpointe Construction and its owner Gagan Lakhmna, was that the appeal would derail the project.

“I had seen the contract of sale, and the closing was to occur on April 15,” said Dickinson Square West Civic President Ted Savage. “I was told over and over again by the applicant that the seller was adamant no extensions would be given beyond the 15th of April.”

Savage, a lawyer who no longer practices, said based on his experience, “nobody would buy a piece of property knowing the shaboodle was being appealed to state court.”

Project attorney Richard DeMarco said by email he could not comment.

Savage made those comments in an interview prior to PlanPhilly learning about the end of the appeal. We have a message out to him seeking comment on this latest development.

Pennsport Civic President Jim Moylan said he takes the dropping of the appeal as good news, regardless of whether Greenpointe is still involved.

Having the variances allowing for multi-family use and relief from the usual open space requirements in place will make it much easier for someone to put a residential development at the long-vacant former hospital, he said.

Pennsport is pleased with Greenpointe's plans, especially after changes were made that include a parking garage, set the garage back 60 feet from the rear lots on Dickinson Street, reducing the number of units and changing the exterior.

“We were pleased and submitted a letter of support,” said Moylan.

Dickinson Square West does not oppose residential development at the site, but is much less satisfied with Greenpointe's plans. For one thing, Savage said, his organization did not see the changes made by GreenePoint until the Zoning Board hearing at which the developer's variances were approved.

“We had no chance to review them,” he said. “We have not to this date seen them.”

In an earlier interview, just after the ZBA hearing, Greenpointe attorney DeMarco said residents' concerns were addressed by the changes made to the plans and design by architect BartonPartners. There were to be 157 parking spaces, but about 30 were sacrificed to increase the garage setback, he said. The number of townhomes was decreased from 38 to 37, he said, and the number of rental apartments was decreased from 198 to 175.

Aesthetically, “there was a change made closer to the hearing for those same people who are very close, on Dickinson, who hated the modern design. There's now a more traditional design proposed for those townhomes.” Other townhomes on blocks “without a traditional look” will be more modern looking, DeMarco said.

In that earlier interview, DeMarco said Greenpointe was hoping to get historic tax credits to help with the financing of the portion of the development within the former hospital. Steps were being taken to have the property placed on the National Historic Register, he said then.

Some local residents have been nervous about the project because of Lakhmna's involvement with other projects that went bust when the real estate market crashed in the 2000s and affiliated lawsuits. But in an earlier interview with PlanPhilly (see related story below), Lakhmna said his experience was humbling, but no different than many other developers experienced during that time.

About the author

Kellie Patrick Gates, Waterfront, casinos, planning reporter

Kellie Patrick Gates writes about planning, neighborhood development and the Central Delaware Waterfront. A journalist for more than two decades, she  worked for daily newspapers in Central Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and South Florida before coming to Philadelphia in 2003 to write for the Inquirer. Her work has appeared on PlanPhilly since 2007, and she also writes Love, the Inquirer's weekly wedding column. A native of Elk County, Pa., Kellie lives with her husband, Gary, and their dog and two cats.

Follow her on Twitter @KelliePGates

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