Image: Jefferson overlay would limit height of future development in the Wash West neighborhood

From the Zoom meeting about the Jefferson Overlay held on June 8th. 

Members of the Washington Square West Civic Association held a public meeting June 8th to report on their activities and to reintroduce themselves to the public.

The meeting was virtual, and members of the Washington Square West Board and committee members issued their respective committee reports but it was the proposed ordinance authored by Thomas Jefferson University Hospital officials that would limit the height of future construction surrounding the hospitals helipad, that was the main focus of the meeting.

“With a lot of development pressure, Jefferson was becoming increasingly concerned about potential impacts on their helipad which, as you know, is located on 11th and Walnut,” said Tony Forte, Zoning attorney for Jefferson University Hospital.

“We brought those concerns to the Planning Commission and to Councilman Squilla and they have been very helpful in putting together an overlay district which would impose some height controls for new construction in the immediate vicinity of the helipad,” he said.

Hugh Lavery, of Jefferson’s Office of Community Affairs introduced his colleagues Rich Webster, president of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Clayton Mitchell, senior vice-president of real estate facilities and construction and Kevin Kleinschmidt, who leads the Jeff Stat program, a medical transportation service owned and operated by Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

“This discussion this evening is about the preservation and protection of our level one Trauma Center so we can continue to care for the community we serve, and we are hopeful that we can enlist your support in regard to this overlay ordinance,” said Lavery who has been with Jefferson for 33 years.

Throughout those years, Lavery said he has had a chance to work closely with such organizations as the Washington Square West Civic Association and appreciated the “work they do to improve the city and this neighborhood.”

“In two years, we’re going to be celebrating our 200th anniversary while Wash West officially started in 1935, this neighborhood has been around a lot longer than Jefferson from a historic point of view so we’re very faithful to this longstanding connection and the relationship we have with many of you,” he said.

Rich Webster, Jefferson’s president said that, as “a lifelong resident of Philadelphia”, he too appreciated the commitment of neighborhood associations “and the mission that you all have of protecting the quality of life of the neighborhood while trying to embrace the various businesses”.

“In my time I am very pleased to see the expansion that Jefferson has made in the immediate area around campus and also am really pleased to see the general revitalization of the area around Jefferson. When I think of 13th street and what that was like 15 years ago and when I think about Chestnut Street and the improvements that occurred there, it’s really great to see,” Webster said.

Webster went on to express his pride in the services provided by Jefferson and to summarize some of those services for those attending the meeting.

“I am proud that we are the number one Trauma Center in the city of Philadelphia, we’re a comprehensive stroke center, we are a burn center, an NCI [National Cancer Institute] designated cancer center, home of the Rothman Institute for Orthopedics as well as a key partner with the world-renowned Wills Eye and we obviously have numerous academic and research facilities on campus,” Webster said.

“We’re also one of the largest employers in the city of Philadelphia as most people are probably aware of and do bring significant economic impact to the community and neighborhood.”

With the closing of Hahnemann Hospital only several miles from where Jefferson now stands, Jefferson’s services to the community are even more necessary and valuable.

“We are two miles from Hahnemann, and we saw overnight such a huge significant increase in our trauma population as well as the number of ED [Emergency Department] visits that we had and the number of fire rescue ambulances that came to our department,” he said adding that the hospital worked closely with the city to expand loading and unloading for ambulances and fire rescue.

During the civil unrest following protests against police brutality, Jefferson’s services were again in high demand and Webster made it clear that the hospital’s services were essential to the well-being of the city and the helicopter transport services were of the utmost importance.

“It’s important that we are able to get patients here as quickly as possible. Right now, Jeff Stat, our helicopter program, has about 3,000 landings [annually] that occur at the main campus hospital and that happens 24-7. When we see the outcomes and understand the impact that we have saving lives, you really can’t necessarily measure that,” said Webster.

Bottom line: “So we are concerned with some of the heights that have been proposed for some of the developments and I really look forward to working with you and the Councilman [Mark Squilla] and other organizations to see what we can do to still provide the services to the community. It really is lifesaving.”

Clayton Mitchell, senior vice president of real estate facilities and construction for Jefferson University hospital began by thanking the members of Wash West for informing the hospital about another development project whose original height was deemed a concern for the hospital as it would have possibly interfered with the path to the helipad.

The developers worked with Washington Square West and Jefferson officials to modify its original plans, but Jefferson had concerns that other development projects could subsequently present problems to its flight path in the future.

“We talked about the increasing amount of development around the city and particularly around the Jefferson campus said Mitchell.

“We actually encourage that because its good for services for our folks whether it’s homes, whether it’s retail or other amenities but the critical nature of the trauma unit, as you are aware, requires access to that helipad - both approach and departure,” he said.

Given this fact, Mitchell said it was necessary to take steps to protect it.

After considering the potential of future real estate development in the area and the impact such development could have on the operation of the helicopter’s ability to transport trauma patients, it became more and more essential for officials at Jefferson to propose an ordinance that would limit height of future developments in the area.

“That’s why we put together a very narrowly tailored ordinance. It was our intent not to infringe or impact on significant parts of this community and localize it to the extent possible to facilitate full operations of the trauma Center,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell expressed his belief that Jefferson has had support from Washington Square West and asked for its continued support as they pushed the ordinance that would impose height limitations on future development in the area surrounding the hospital’s helipad.

“This is the only trauma helipad in Center City so if we lose this capability and Center City loses a lot in terms of the academic medical capabilities and, more importantly, to all of those patients that are represented by the 3,000 patients that come into that site every year. It’s a 24-7, 365 days a year operation that is really vital to the core mission of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.”

Next week, the Philadelphia Free Press will share detailed plans of the proposed ordinance and get comments from official and residents of the area.

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