CHOP medical office building proposed in Franconia

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia medical offices would be built at the current Biggie's Place site under plans outlined at the April 15 Franconia Township Board of Supervisors work session.

FRANCONIA — Biggie's Place is apparently ready for a CHOP.

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is planning for an about 12,500-square-foot medical offices building on the property at County Line Road and Township Line Road where Biggie's bar and a multi-family home is now located, attorney Joe Kuhls said at the April 15 Franconia Township Board of Supervisors work session.

"We're hoping that you think that's as good an idea as we think it is because we need your help," Kuhls told the board. "There's a piece of the property that's still zoned residential, and so we would need a map change to commercial." 

Initially built as a single-family home, there has been a commercial use at the property for several years, he said.

"It is still zoned residential, so what we're hoping is that the board would look favorably upon the notion of rezoning this piece to commercial, which would really be just a recognition of the non-conforming use which currently exists there anyway, but it would then permit the redevelopment of this site," Kuhls said. 

The one-story building would look like an existing CHOP facility in Springfield Township, Montgomery County, he said. 

"It's just physicians offices," Kuhls said in answer to board member Charles Amuso's question about the planned use of the building. "It's not going to be any sort of urgent care and no procedures." 

Along with the zoning change, there are a few other changes that would be requested, Kuhls said.

"There's currently a general regulation on your commercial district that says that all parking has to be to the side or rear of the building," he said. 

In this case, though, it makes more sense to have the parking where the front of the building is, and not having parking in the back would allow more buffering to be done between the property and neighboring homes, he said. 

The ordinance also says that detention basins have to be at least 100 feet from the building, he said.

"Given the size of the site, there's no real way to comply with that requirement," Matt Rutt, president of Lancore Engineering Consultants, said.

He said he's designed projects throughout the state. 

"I've actually never seen a regulation like that," he said, "and we routinely build those facilities closer to the building than a hundred feet, as long as, obviously, the proper engineering precautions are taken." 

Township Engineer Doug Rossino said there have been other recently approved projects in the township that also had to meet the requirements and did so. Instead of the board changing the ordinance for the parking and detention basins, a variance could be requested from the zoning hearing board, he said. 

CHOP already has offices less than a mile from the proposed new ones but feels the need to expand in this area, Kuhls said. 

The property is currently under agreement of sale with a developer, who is negotiating a lease with CHOP, he said.

Board member Robert Nice asked if the plans for the connector route between Route 309 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike would affect the building plans since the planned connection on the Route 309 end would be in the area of the property or possibly even include part of the site. Construction for phase two of the connector is currently planned to begin next year. The third and final phase of the project that has been discussed for years has not yet been designed.

"My experience has been that when the world was young, they were talking about exactly where that connector was going to happen," Kuhls said. 

He said he had not been aware the connector plan was still on the table until township officials raised the issue but said he's talked to CHOP about it.

"They're hoping that it happens, frankly. It might help the functionality of the project," Kuhls said. "CHOP is aware of it. The developer is aware of it, and certainly no one seems to be of the mind right now to put the brakes on or slow down this project in any way for fear of what it may be."

"I think if it would work, this would sure look a lot better than what's there now," board member Curtis Kratz said of the plans.

"It'll definitely make it look better over that way," board member David Fazio said.

"CHOP builds a nice building," Rutt said.  

Kuhls said he will wait to hear from the township on the next move.

Biggie's Facebook page, meanwhile, is listing a luau sendoff party Saturday, April 27, at 3 p.m. for what it says will be its "final party as we say goodbye to our most loyal customers, family and friends."

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