Philly won't appeal decision to strip Robinson building of historic designation, planning director says

The former Robinson department store building at 1020 Market St. behind billboards advertising the Fashion District Philadelphia project across the street.

Philadelphia officials have decided not to fight to keep the former Robinson department store at 1020 Market St. on the city’s historic register.

“The city believes that the public’s interest in redevelopment there significantly outweighs the public’s interest in the preservation of the facade,” city planning and development director Anne Fadullon wrote in a letter Monday to Paul Steinke, president of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. “We believe that allowing the owner to redevelop the Market Street site as he sees fit is the appropriate path forward.”

The Board of License and Inspection Review’s ruling last month against the historic designation will not be challenged, Fadullon said.

The Philadelphia Historical Commission voted in July 2016 to place the mid-20th-century modernist building’s wave-like facade of sweeping purple glass tile on the city’s Register of Historic Properties in response to a nomination by the Preservation Alliance.

The building’s owners, mall-landlords Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust and Macerich, appealed the designation a month later in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court but later came to an agreement with city officials to have the case heard by the L&I review board instead.

Steinke said in an interview Tuesday that his group is consulting with lawyers to potentially challenge the board’s jurisdiction in deciding an appeal of a historic designation. He shared two letters regarding separate historic-designation challenges where city officials suggested or asserted that the board was not the right venue for such appeals.

“Never in our experience has the L&I review board been given the task of determining whether the Historical Commission’s designation is valid,” he said.

City spokesman Paul Chrystie said in an email after the L&I panel’s Nov. 22 ruling that the last time the board had heard a Historical Commission appeal was 15 years ago, but that doing so provided extra time for officials to negotiate an agreement with the Robinson building’s owners.

“Because the opportunity to proceed to court still exists after a [review board] decision, going to [the board] first offers additional time to reach an agreed-upon resolution,” he said at the time.

Fadullon also said in her letter to Steinke on Monday that the city would not appeal a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court decision last month against the commission’s July 2016 designation of an apartment house  at 4054 Chestnut St. as a historic asset.

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