Board demands changes in waterfront hospital design

Posted: April 03, 2014

The plan for a new Children's Hospital campus on the Schuylkill waterfront came under intense criticism Tuesday from a Philadelphia review board, which demanded major changes in the design to improve "connectivity" with the city.

Members of the Civic Design Review board issued 10 recommendations for improving the massive high-rise campus just below the South Street Bridge. The plan calls for three office towers and a hotel - almost as much space as Comcast's two Center City towers - between the river and the rowhouse neighborhood known as Devil's Pocket.

Because the campus is removed from the city's downtown, and many workers are expected to drive, the hospital wants to set the towers on a parking podium. But board members worry that the garage, which would stretch from South to Christian Streets, would create an immense wall along Schuylkill Avenue and the river.

"To have a three-story wall, four city blocks long - this troubles me," said Cecil Baker, an architect who serves on the board. "We've struggled for years to make connections to the river."

To provide access to the new campus, the hospital would create two driveways directly off the bridge. Because the bridge is heavily used by pedestrians and bikers, many fear the turning cars could pose a danger. A new rendering shows a 12-foot-high wall against the bridge between the driveways.

Design review was introduced as part of the changes to the zoning code last year, so it is not clear whether the board can force the hospital to make the changes, nor is it clear whether hospital officials must hold further discussions with the board.

CHOP is required, however, to present the project to the Planning Commission. It also will need to obtain a single variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

"I think they will meet with us again," said James Campbell, who participated in Tuesday's review. "They have been pretty responsive so far."

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