There’s Something About EPPI…

So what’s the deal with the old “Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute” off Scotts Lane, above the railroad crossing? Why was our Community Council threatening a “call to arms” against the senior housing provider who purchased the property last year? Bernard Scally’s article in Friday’s Roxborough Review provided some answers, but we’re still kinda scratching our heads…

We were at that meeting, too — taking video, even. What the heck.

Only been to three meetings so far, but when we review the footage at home, we’ve always been like “Whoa… these people are cranky…”

At the first meeting (above), we saw a grown woman get publicly scolded for an honest, earnest mistake. At the second, an important neighborhood discussion was essentially filibustered off the agenda.

And at this last one, the representative from a new developer was reprimanded by the President for texting while he was talking — when, oops, turns out the dude was actually taking notes (we were sitting right behind him so we can totally vouch).

Oh yeah, and he’s a grown man, and just who do you think you are, talking to other adults like a high school principal?! Grr!

But no — forgive us:  we have not paid our $20 Community Council dues, we’re not here to shoot down leadership that was voted in, fair & square, by the dozens of locals who attend these meetings. And respect, of course, to those who participate in Council and show up for votes and meetings and committees and all that stuff…

Not exactly what we’d call an authentic representation of East Falls demographics, but until other neighbors get involved, this same crew who’s been calling the shots for years, now, is all we got.

And frankly I kinda understand how a Community Council might charge a fee to vote for stuff like banners and block parties, but when it comes to something as huge as EPPI — this “hulking giant” that “looms like a Death Star” (to quote EFFC’s president) — an organization such as EFCC should *want* the entire community’s opinion. Regardless of who paid their dues.

To us, any organization that purports itself to be the voice of the community, should strive to represent the entire community, in matters of such far-reaching importance — not just the Community that Has Spare Cash Plus Time to Attend Zoning & Council Meetings. But whatever.

Philly has tons of other “Registered Community Organizations” like EFCC that charge citizens to vote, and they’re also known to shake down new businesses, promote personal agendas, and divide against race, class, religion…blah blah blaaaah….

Philly politics or politics in general? Again, this system was voted in. We’re not crying foul, but as concerned citizens we’ve got every reason to wanna keep an eye on things, all the same.  This is our home, too.

To be clear:  we’re not trying to have a voice in the Community Council’s dealings with New Courtland over the EPPI site. But we’ve got questions of our own, and we’d like to address them in our own voice, please.

Because here’s the Council’s voice, addressing EPPI/New Courtland at this month’s meeting:

“My fear is New Courtland has mistaken the natural spirit and determination of this community and thinks it can simply do as it wishes because quite frankly they’ve got more money than God… That’s not a good thing… So the promise is to work together, and if that fails, well, we’re all gonna have a problem.” — Barnaby Wittels, EFCC President

Are we missing something? Isn’t the ink still dry on the closing, here?

Has NewCourtland done something already to make us think they’re here to run roughshod over the neighborhood? Why the direct threat at what probably should’ve been a neighborly Meet ‘n Greet?

Why so much attitude with these guys, anyway?  NewCourtland provides much-needed affordable senior living, and seems to have good press in the area.  It’s not their fault that Philadelphia under Tom Corbett decided to sell of our city’s surplus properties, which ended the wonderful “Multi-Community Alliance” agreement, leaving the property vulnerable.

Such a shame, all that cooperation wasted. The agreement was the result of hours and hours of community engagement — hundreds of citizens from every neighborhood involved worked out how they’d like the 14-acre property on Scotts Lane used. They came up with plans for a hotel, retail space… some demo here, some re-purposing there. One thing everyone  agreed they did NOT want, however, was “institutionalized space” in the building.

Interesting — considering the big EPPI building is already set up as an institution. In fact, using the building at all kinda requires institutional use because the structure has asbestos buried deep in its walls. The building is safe as-is but can’t really be modified without millions of dollars of asbestos removal fees. The entire 14-acre campus was 2.5 million dollars, so spending more than that on demolition before renovations can even start, well. Ridiculous.

Perhaps the Council was angling for Philadelphia to take the structures down altogether?  Not gonna happen, state senator Vincent Hughes said at this month’s meeting. Philadelphia was not going to spend millions to take down a building that could be re-sold for cash Pennsylvania very much needed.

So EPPI was listed for sale in June 2013, then again in March 2014. These were not private notices, people:

Everyone at January’s meeting with opinions on EPPI has known for years the agreement had expired, and the building was for sale to the highest bidder. Perhaps we’re missing something, but it seems wrong to go charging at these newcomers to our neighborhood with teeth bared, demanding “collaboration or a call to arms.”

A call to arms? What does that even mean? AGAIN: Why are we attacking the people who bought EPPI?  Shouldn’t our beef be with the administration that dissolved this neighborhood agreement — the ones who put it up for sale in the first place? Or at least those responsible for selling to NewCourtland…?

But at January’s meeting, a senior citizen actually stood up and asked if New Courtland might consider parceling their land up to provide East Falls with “some community office space” — for free. Forgive us, but whaaa…? Is this the sort of pressure Community Council should be putting on new development?

Another senior said, “I don’t care if New Courtland really is the Shangri-La for seniors you say it is, I don’t care how much it’s needed. The fact of the matter is: we had an agreement NO INSTITUTIONAL USE!”

See, to us, that’s another example of how this organization’s shooting East Falls in the foot:  Why draw such a line? The agreement was FIVE YEARS ago — maybe the neighborhood’s changed? What’s so awful about senior living, anyway?  At least NewCourtland’s not building a correctional facility, or a Special Victims unit.

And how are we defining “institutional use” exactly? A quick Google shows NewCourtland does all kind of cool independent living spaces to help people age in place — why are we so sure we wanna fight NewCourtland just because they’re “institutional”? You’d think an organization supporting East Falls Village would be a little more open-minded about another local resource for senior care.

If we wanna collaborate, why are we coming out swinging?  NewCourtland has been nothing but kind and respectful to all of our questions & comments — even the cranky ones.

More importantly:  Why is this the kinda representation we want here in East Falls? 

State Senator Hughes was sympathetic, but firm about how we need to move forward: “I understand the frustration. I wish the visions at the charette were realized. I don’t need to tell any folks in room that we’re getting older. It would have been great to have a hotel there but I think we got to engage with these folks.” 

Further, he countered Wittels’ assumption of NewCourtland’s wealth,They don’t make a lot of money when your payer is Medicare and Medicaid.” 

What’s going on, here? And is it in East Falls’ best interest to fight or cooperate?

Let’s find out more about NewCourtland!  Maybe they have community outreach plans, or an innovation branch that might explore new “institutional” models, including multi-use areas perhaps…?

To that end, we’re reaching out to Michael Hagarty, New Courtland’s Marketing Communications Manager, who addressed the Council earlier this month. We wanna know NewCourtland’s take on this lapsed Multi-Community Alliance agreement, including whether they’ve ever encountered such a situation before, and what concerned citizens might do to stay better informed & involved.  

If you’ve got any questions or thoughts to pass along, post them in comments or shoot us an email to

Finally, we might not have a solution to community planning & development complexities, but we’re totally in for this entertaining distraction/learning tool: GENTRIFICATION, THE BOARD GAME    **not making this up!**

Join us for another exciting recap-of-someone-else’s-recap next month — looks like quite a Community Council agenda! EPPI, String Theory Charter School, the PHA development proposed for Ridge Avenue. Meeting is Monday the 9th at 7:00, see ya there!


  1. At 1 end of the nasty stretch of Ridge Avenue is Francisville, at the other end East Falls. The first community is famously pro- development, the second is famously anti-development. Is anyone surprised that Francisville is moving along like gangbusters while EF is stuck in neutral? Property values have been stagnant in EF for years. In Francisville they’re jumping. Sadly, we’re our own worst enemies.

  2. We can’t be afraid that everything won’t turn out perfect. Empty abondanded building are another problem that will affect our property values.

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