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Editorial | Fox Chase Expansion

Prerogative pejorative

Fox Chase Cancer Center's expansion plans have been held hostage by Philadelphia City Councilman Brian O'Neill.

The $800 million project was ready to be approved by Council this month. Then, mysteriously, "problems" cropped up.

O'Neill claimed that Fox Chase officials asked him at the last minute to postpone final approval. What's really going on is another ugly example of "councilmanic prerogative."

O'Neill can stop this project single-handedly because it's located in his district in the Northeast. Under the exasperating Council tradition, other Council members won't approve such a project without O'Neill's blessing.

O'Neill, who says he actually supports the project, is holding out for cash. Some people say he wants $4.5 million, others say he'd settle for less. The money wouldn't go into the councilman's pockets, you understand. It would be used to fund "community development" in his district.

State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.) used similarly robust tactics to build a nonprofit empire through his Citizens Alliance to benefit South Philly. But now he's under indictment for some of those same activities.

Understandably, the board of directors at Fox Chase is balking at donating money to anything that could be viewed as a

Citizens Alliance

of Northeast Philadelphia. And that impasse appears to be what prompted O'Neill's last-minute stall in Council.

By delaying action on the project until the new year, O'Neill is risking a bad outcome for the city, for Fox Chase employees (hundreds of whom live in O'Neill's district), and cancer patients.

The Council and mayoral administration that take over next month will need to go over the same plans that the Street administration and Fox Chase have been working on for more than two years.

The proposal calls for construction of 15 buildings over 25 years, adding up to 4,300 jobs. The project allows this premiere health-care facility to remain in Philadelphia, along with the 2,400 current jobs.

Neighbors who object to the expansion point out that taking 19.4 acres from adjacent Burholme Park would break the will of Robert Waln Ryerss, who donated the land for the 69-acre park in 1895. They are also concerned about the impact on their neighborhood.

But the city, Fox Chase, and the Fairmount Park Commission have done a good job balancing those concerns and the needs of the land-locked institution. Fox Chase will contribute $7.75 million for the park maintenance.

The cancer center expects to treat 12,000 new patients per year by 2015, many of them from the community in which it is located. It should be allowed to grow where it is.

Forcing Fox Chase to jump through more hoops is unnecessary. And although the cancer center's leaders want to expand their headquarters at the current location, they do have other options - including a move to New Jersey.

Incoming Mayor Michael Nutter and the new Council, including O'Neill, should work with Fox Chase to make the rest of the approval process as painless as possible.