Editor's note: This story has been updated since its original posting earlier Monday.
The application to build a new 14, 226 square-foot Rite Aid on the large empty lot at the corner of Lancaster and Ardmore avenues in downtown Ardmore has been denied.
The Lower Merion Zoning Hearing board voted 2-0 Monday morning to deny all variance requests made by Rite Aid of Pennsylvania in the company’s bid to build a drive-through pharmacy and store.
Michael Wylie, zoning officer for the Township’s Building and Planning Department, said he was not surprised by the decision.
“Not really, because the parking issue was a major problem with the application,” Wylie explained. “You need to meet the minimum parking requirement. The board traditionally doesn’t grant parking variances for commercial use.”
Board members Kenneth Brier and Charles Davidson voted down the request. Zoning Board Chairman Robert Fox did not vote, as he did nor participate in hearings for the proposal, held in the fall of 2010 and earlier this year.
Sherry Tillman, owner of the Past-Present-Future store on Lancaster Avenue in downtown Ardmore, said she was happy the Board chose to deny the variances.
“The board traditionally doesn’t grant parking variances for commercial use.”
“Approval would have hurt the progress Ardmore has been trying to achieve with businesses that encourage walkability, and businesses that add to the eclectic vibe that is Ardmore,” Tillman said. “Ardmore needs unique, not big-box, stores.”
Rite Aid of Pennsylvania’s proposal for 104 West Lancaster Avenue (across the street from an existing Rite Aid in a strip mall) called for the demolition of the next-door carwash, consolidation of the parcels and construction of a modern store and pharmacy with a drive-through window.
Parking v. Walking
Rite Aid originally sought five requests for zoning relief: four variances and a request for additional zoning relief that the Board deemed necessary to redevelop the property as proposed. The company’s attorney, Mark Damico, eventually reduced that number to three.
But one of those three was to dispense with the mixed-use zoning for downtown Ardmore known as “MUST” (“Mixed-Use Special Transit District”).
Rite Aid challenged the very “validity” of the MUST regulations, and as it happens, Ardmore has received accolades of late, from a large regional authority as well as the national press, for just that kind of zoning.
“It is already hard to cross as a pedestrian at Lancaster and Ardmore avenues,” Tillman said. “Traffic would have been a nightmare.”
Rite Aid sought a variance to permit 30 parking spaces rather than the required 57.
Tillman, who also runs Ardmore's monthly First Friday Main Line festivities, is not alone in her relief. Maryam Phillips, a member of the Ardmore Progressive Civic Association, commented at a July zoning hearing that her civic group had “great concerns about access in and out of Lancaster Avenue.”
Wynnewood resident Joann Erfer, responding to the Patch report on that hearing, commented that Ardmore did not need another drugstore to begin with, but that if it were to get one, “we don't need a drugstore that will screw up the already impossible traffic at Lancaster and Ardmore.”
Wylie said he has not seen or heard of any other development plans for the spot (which actually consists of five parcels, zoned for “mixed-use” development, which are already leased by Rite Aid of Pennsylvania), but is encouraged by recent retail activity in Ardmore.
“It’s the code that’s driving the development on that property,” Wylie said. “A project would have to be compliant. ... It’s more to encourage pedestrian activity rather than vehicle shopping. If you put a building up close to the sidewalk, people are more apt to walk to it. Now that we’re getting tenants into some of the stores that have been empty for a while, that’s a good thing.”