Developer Details Condo Plans for First Baptist Church of Ardmore
Wally Smerconish, the contract buyer of Ardmore's First Baptist Church, presented his plans to the Zoning Hearing Board on Thursday.
At Thursday’s Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board meeting, a developer presented his plans to convert First Baptist Church of Ardmore and its parsonage, located at St. Paul’s Road and E Athens Ave. in Ardmore, into five condominium units.
Wally Smerconish, a real estate developer and the contract buyer of the property, would place four single-family condo units in the church’s main building and one in the parsonage.
First Baptist Church of Ardmore was first placed up for sale in July 2011, due to financial hardship and a dwindling congregation, according to John Duffy, owner of Duffy Real Estate, the firm that was hired to list and market the property.
The church was originally listed for $950,000, a price that was eventually lowered to $750,000, he said.
While the real estate agency had initially sought to sell the property to another religious institution, there has been little interest, and it would be hard for a church to thrive in the E Athens Road property, which has only four off-street parking spots.
While there used to be a parking lot across the street, the area has now been converted into Linwood Park.
“A Baptist congregation that has been there for 100 years and has probably 15 or 20 families supporting it is a very quiet and very terrific neighbor,” Smerconish said.
But, he continued, such a small congregation cannot support the upkeep on such a large property.
“There are very few religious institutions that could afford both the upkeep and the purchase, but the ones that have looked at it haven’t had any interest whatsoever because of the lack of parking,” Duffy said.
Smerconish came before the zoning hearing board on Thursday night because he is seeking two variances from the township:
- Permission to build a multi-family dwelling on the site, which under the R4 zoning code only permits single-family detached dwellings.
- The ability to increase impervious coverage on the site by 4.9 percent to build six more off-street parking spaces, for a total of 10 parking spaces, or 2 per unit. The current impervious coverage is already 48.4 percent, which exceeds the 39 percent coverage permitted by the township. If permitted, the total impervious coverage will be 53.7 percent.
If the variances are not granted, Smerconish said, he will no longer be interested in the property.
First Baptist Church is not currently designated as a historic property, which would to some extent restrict how Smerconish could adapt the property. Dormer windows will need to be added to the roof of the church building to allow light into the future second-floor bedrooms, as required by code, according to Smerconish.
Smerconish said he has met with the Lower Merion Historical Society and civic associations, but does not believe the building qualifies as a historical class one property.
“I understand their intent and I will try to meet the spirit and the intent of those organizations, but there are going to be some alterations to it moving into an adaptive reuse for multifamily," he said.
The project will not move forward until the zoning hearing board grants his requests, Smerconish said.
A hardship on a property can be a hardship across a neighborhood,” Smerconish said. “And remember that a small congregation cannot support a large church.”