Thursday, March 20, 2014

One Side of the Issue

I went to last night's Town Hall about Montgomery Hospital and took copious notes, which I'm going to organize over the weekend and report on Monday. This morning and tomorrow I have to be in Haverford early, doing mystery author things, so to make my life easier today, I got hold of the document that Doug Seiler read from last night at the meeting, which was prepared by the Norristown Preservation Society. It's long, but it's comprehensive and should answer almost everyone's questions. For my part, I think NPS's vision for the Montgomery Hospital site makes much more sense than Einstein/Elon's (if you could even call theirs a "vision") and is better for Norristown and the hospital's immediate neighborhood in the long AND short run.

For tomorrow's Diary, I'll try to post that entry later today, or tomorrow afternoon.

Commentary Regarding the Proposed Demolition of the Former Montgomery Hospital

  1.  Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code support reuse of the facility – not demolition.
  2.  Demolition of a six story concrete building is inherently hazardous and will be disruptive to the community
  3.  Proposed new project out of character
       a.  Building coverage too sparse
       b.  Style of proposed building and its set-backs, are not appropriate for the neighborhood.
       c.  Cell towers proposed across Powell street are too tall
  4.  Proposed new project is not an asset to the community:
      a.  No commercial uses at first floor contributes nothing to the neighborhood
      b.  Too much undifferentiated open space around buildings. How will it be used?
      c.  Minimal parking on site. Long walk for seniors from the garage.
      d.  Phased development and bare-bones approach, is in developer’s interest – not Norristown’s.
  5.  Overall plan may NOT get financing:
      a.  State money is competitive. 
      b. The property is eligible for the National Historic Register and has similar protections under federal and state laws as though it were on the Register. 
      c. The project is an example of “anticipatory demolition”.  This will likely trigger a section 106 review and may also deny the Federal Tax Credit financing.
  6. What’s the Rush?  Once it’s gone, that’s it.
      a.  Norris Theater is a good example.  Old Borough Hall and YWCA are others.
      b.  If financing is not approved, what is plan B?
  7.  Miscommunication about the development appears disingenuous:
      a. Talk of sitting vacant for years is not a valid point.
      b. Talk of building components falling on neighbors is not a valid point.
      c. Talk of biohazards in building making it unusable is not a valid point.
      d.  Statement that it is not historic is false.
      e.  Asbestos is being abated either way, so it’s not a valid issue.
      f.  The claim that it is private property and therefore, "they can do what they want" isn’t a valid point, because:
           i.  The proposal needs zoning relief
          ii.  Public $$ is being used to develop the proposed project.
         iii. The proposal is counter to Norristown’s “Brand” and “Comprehensive Plan”.
         iv.  Einstein has said for years that they will do the right thing.  Council should hold them to their pledge, as it was part of earlier awards of public money  and approvals for constructing the hospital in East Norriton.
      g.  Years of “re-use dialogue” gives impression that this building has sat vacant for years.
      h. The Mission First proposal and pro-forma, was flawed. The floor area was too large for the market, as they were keeping the Horsey Pavilion. The Horsey pavilion doesn’t work for housing and requires a mixed-use approach, such as office or institutional occupants. That fact, combined with Council’s push for the Pennrose project, at DeKalb and Airy, is most-likely why the financing was denied in 2012 – not because of inherent flaws with the notion of reusing the building.

   1.  The total floor area of all the buildings on the Hospital complex between Fornance, Wood, Powell and Locust Streets is approximately 248,000 sq. feet.  The four-story, Horsey Pavilion, built in 1975, is not a historically “contributing” structure and consists of 65,000 sq. feet.
   2.  If the Horsey Pavilion is demolished and the remaining buildings are renovated to Senior housing, with an adjacent “Life Center” (20,000 sq. feet in old emergency center) and some first floor commercial space (10,000 sq. feet)  the total project area would be 183,000 sq. feet.
   3.  The existing complex has been determined eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, with the Horsey Pavilion as non-contributing.  If the remaining 183,000 were renovated by Federal preservation standards at $200/sf, for a total project cost of $37m, then the project would receive $7.3m in Federal Historic tax credits.
   4.  By abating the asbestos throughout and only demolishing the Horsey Pavilion,  a significant portion of the $4-$5m of a total demolition cost can be saved.
   5.  Renovating the structures will generate many more local, unskilled and skilled jobs, than will new construction.  This is because preservation projects are more labor intensive than new construction.
   6.  The renovation of the historic structures can be implemented in two, or three, phases.  We estimate the total project mix to be 100 to 115 apartments in the six-story tower and 24 to 27 units in McShae Hall.
   7.  The dimensions of the historic six story tower (50’ wide) and McShae Hall (45’ wide) are very suitable to senior housing apartments.  Examples of other buildings, which were renovated to apartments and having similar building widths, include:  Kennedy Kenrick (65’) and Rittenhouse  School (47’), locally and St. Luke’s Hospital (50’) and Beacon Hospital (47’), nationally. 
   8.  Keeping the historic structure(s) has a style and image that fits the community:
      a. The existing building has a front door on Powell Street, that is easy to find and offers convenient automobile drop-off.
      b. Has some retail/commercial uses on Powell Street to enliven and serve the community.
      c. Is closer to parking spaces in garage, especially since the reuse would most likely keep the bridge to reduce vehicle/pedestrian problems.
      d. Builds on Norristown’s “Brand”, which, as stated in the Comprehensive Plan, is “a community that is diverse, has a unique historic town character, and has great access to the metro area via public transit and the regional highway system.”
      e. The importance and impact of working with historic structures when approaching development in Norristown can’t be understated.  It sends a message that the elected officials understand Norristown’s character and inherent assets and are not just “selling out” to whoever shows up with a proposal.  It also improves the quality of life for the existing residents and sends a message to other people, who may not be familiar with Norristown, that the inherent environmental and psychological values of rehabilitating structurally sound, historic, buildings has value.
   9. The existing building is built of the soundest, most fire-resistant type of construction available.  The proposed buildings are to be four story structures of wood studs and trusses, which is the least fire-resistant type.  There have been several spectacular examples of fires resulting from these types of structures being constructed in close proximity to other structures - as would be the case with Locust and Wood Streets.
  10. If renovated, the historic buildings will provide interesting apartments with a view.  Plus amenities in the building, such as the “Life Center” and retail, with nearby parking.
  11. If renovated, the existing cellular towers can remain on the roof of the existing building, instead of being moved and reconstructed, inappropriately, across Powell street on the much shorter parking garage and medical arts building.

   1.  First of all, to not start the demolition of the hospital complex until after the private and public financing has been approved by PHFA and finalized with the developer’s private-equity sources.
   2.  For Norristown Council and Einstein to honor Norristown Ordinance 125-1 & 2 requiring a 120 day waiting period for the demolition of “key, or landmark” buildings within the borough.
   3.  For local, County, State elected officials and Einstein Healthcare, to recognize that a financially feasible reuse of the existing structure is in the best interest of Norristown.  For those same parties to try and find a way forward that does just that.  In other words, for all concerned to simply “try harder” to save and reuse the historic portions of the complex.
   4.  For local, County and State elected officials to meet with Einstein and develop a financial incentive package, of public/private resources, that can be the basis for a re-bid of the project.  The proposed re-bid would contemplate the demolition of the Horsey Pavilion.
   5.  While the project is being re-bid, for Einstein to abate the asbestos and demolish the Horsey Pavilion, so that when the new project’s funding becomes available, the project is “shovel-ready”.
   6.  As the demolition phase is shorter with a reuse project and as the abatement and the partial demolition may be able to take place while the re-bid and PHFA review is underway, the delay to the overall development may be, at worst, several months.  It certainly won’t be years.

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