A judge's ruling against Fox Chase Cancer Center's plans to expand into Burholme Park should prompt the city and the institution to find another solution.
Philadelphia Orphans Court Judge John W. Herron decided that Fox Chase cannot use 19.4 acres of the 65-acre city park to expand its campus in the Northeast. The judge said state law requires the city to hold dedicated parkland in public trust for the community's use.
City Council and Mayor Nutter in March approved Fox Chase's plans to use a portion of the park for a $1 billion expansion over 25 years. The Fairmount Park Commission had voted in 2005 to lease the parkland. The project would create 4,000 jobs.
But some neighbors filed suit to stop the taking of the park, arguing that it violated the will of philanthropist Robert Waln Ryerss, who donated the land and his mansion in 1895 for "the use and enjoyment of the people forever."
Fox Chase says it will appeal the ruling. This Editorial Board has supported the center's plans, believing that adding well-paying jobs at an internationally recognized local employer outweighs the loss of 30 percent of the park, especially with much of the contested portion consists of a golf driving range that isn't used part of the year.
The judge said so himself - Fox Chase has "valid needs for expansion land."
But in light of the judge's ruling, Fox Chase faces a lengthy legal battle on appeal. It would be in the best interests of all involved for the center's leaders and city officials to craft another solution, even if that means splitting up Fox Chase's campus.
The risk in starting over is that Fox Chase could decide to pull up stakes, taking some or all of its 2,300 existing good jobs with it to Delaware or New Jersey. The Nutter administration must now work overtime to ensure that doesn't happen.
Council, specifically Councilman Brian O'Neill, deserves some blame for injecting its destructive "councilmanic prerogative" into this issue. The original agreement called for Fox Chase to fund a land swap to create more parkland in the city.
When no acceptable land was found, O'Neill succeeded in extracting $4 million from Fox Chase for capital improvements in his Council district. The judge used words like "desperate," "arbitrary" and "contrived" to describe this nugget as part of the lease. Not only did this fund alter the intent of the proposed land swap, it also had a familiar Philadelphia smell.
O'Neill has defended his actions as a necessary tool to ensure that "neighbors' concerns are adequately addressed." But from the judge's bench, it looked like another good reason to kill the deal.