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Design Committee Narrowly Approves Philadelphia University Master Plan

The final vote was 5-3

The Civic Design Review committee narrowly approved Philadelphia University’s 101-acre master plan after listening to an hour-long public comment session and debating whether the plans were either too broad or too specific.

The university’s master plan calls for the rezoning of the 101-acre campus to an Institutional (Special Purpose) District, or SP-INS. Doing so would allow the school to develop on its campus without the need to seek approval from the East Falls community for variances over the next 30 years.

The proposal presented at yesterday’s meeting revealed plans to construct eight new campus buildings, including three dormitories, totaling 423,836 gross square footage of space. The university also wants to include training facilities for their track and field team.

The 30-year master plan was first shown to the East Falls Community Council in April 2015. As was the case at that time, local residents voiced their concerns to the Civic Design Review committee yesterday about the development’s proximity to the Wissahickon Watershed.

The Wissahickon Watershed overlay states that due to development’s ability to cause flooding and erosion, "it is necessary to impose environmental controls to protect the health, safety and general welfare, to improve water quality and to achieve environmentally sound land development within the Wissahickon Watershed."

Committee member and architect Cecil Baker later said, "It’s clear that this is a sensitive part of the city. [...] I would feel much better if I saw plans that were broader and at least showed the watershed surrounding this area."

In addition to environmental concerns, some locals also pointed to Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University’s recent merger announcement. One resident argued that the lack of public details on the integration since the December announcement make it premature for the CDR to act on the design proposal for the master plan.

The committee ultimately voted 5-3 in favor of concluding the Civic Design Review process for the university’s master plan, though some members urged the design team to incorporate more green space into the proposal.