Editor's note: This blog, written by Kate Galer, is in response to the news that the would-be developer of First Baptist Church of Ardmore has applied for a demolition permit. Kate is a blogger on Ardmore-Merion-Wynnewood Patch. Anyone who lives or works in the Ardmore, Merion, Wynnewood area is welcome to blog on Patch. For more information, email editor Amanda Mahnke at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our blogging page and click "Post on Patch."
Well, Mr. Smerconish, you have done a good job of sounding like a threatening bully to the people who actually care about preserving the character of our little pocket of the world.
By basically saying that the Township Zoning Hearing Board is forcing you to demolish First Baptist Church - a beautiful, 90 year old, stone structure that fits perfectly on the corner of St. Paul's and Athens in Ardmore - you place the blame for your bad decisions on the government. Perhaps before going under contract to purchase the property you should have had your "people" (isn't your lawyer former Commissioner Lance Rogers?) let you know that conversion to a multi-family dwelling wouldn't be a permissible use under the current zoning.
You have now helped further the "stereotype" of developer. Is it no wonder we all get our back up when someone comes in from somewhere else and wants to fundamentally change the way our neighborhood looks?
Just a few, short years ago a developer wanted to build four houses on a one-acre parking lot within spitting distance of the Baptist Church. That developer ended up making a cool million when he sold it to the Township, who bought it with already designated open space funds and neighborhood fundraising efforts, to build beautiful Linwood Park.
While there is certainly no expectation of the Township stepping in on the Baptist purchase, there is an expectation by the neighborhood for the devolper to uphold the character of Ardmore.
When people move to Ardmore or choose to stay after being brought up here, they enter into a tacit agreement with their neighbors that we like living in houses like this, with people like this, with a streetscape like this. We can always improve things a bit by planting some more trees or fixing up our house a little, but it is generally OK by us. Some of the way we feel about Ardmore is intangible and hard to define and conflicted, but it seems to be a collective way of feeling.
Demolishing a building that has been a part of our neighborhood for longer than most of us have been alive is just plain wrong. The Baptist Church isn't technically classified as an historic building, but it also isn't falling down, an eyesore (quite the opposite!) or hazardous. It is a big, old stone building with interesting little features, the type of building that doesn't get built anymore. And it is eligible to be on the Historic Inventory, which is probably where it should've been before all this started.
I just wish Mr. Smerconish hadn't alienated the neighbors by applying for a demolition permit because there might be some relief in Township ordinances and codes coming soon.
There is an amendment to an ordinance that has been in the works and is being proposed by the Lower Merion Township Building and Planning Department. The amendment specifically addresses the conversion of religious institutions and clubs or lodges to permissible multi-family dwellings.
As you can imagine, there seems to be an epidemic of traditional Christian churches losing congregations and therefore not able to support the properties they have owned for many years. The Township is trying to adapt as fast as they can, the wheels of government being sometimes slow, and address this issue.
The First Baptist Church could be the first property to use this ordinance for adaptive and agreeable reuse. I am not even going to broach the environmental aspect of adaptive reuse. Suffice it to say both the environmental and the preservationist communities concur that the most environmentally sound building is one that is already there.
The amendment to the ordinance will be discussed this evening at the Building and Planning meeting of the Board of Commissioners. I won't bore you with the gory details, but it seems like a positive amendment that will protect both the neighborhoods the structures are located in and the buyer of the property. Balance.
You can read it here - item #6. (Editor's note: A PDF of the ordinance and related documents is also available here.)
In the meantime, the residents of Ardmore need to do a few things to stop Smerconish from being able to turn to rubble a part of our neighborhood.
Contact both Commissioner Dellheim (email@example.com) and Commissioner Lindner (firstname.lastname@example.org) and make your opinion known. Let them know we need their help!
Contact Wally Smerconish and/or his lawyer, Lance Rogers, and let them know this is not an okay way to deal with our neighborhood (sneaky and underhanded!). Contact Duffy Realty (610-667-6655) in Narberth, who is representing the sellers, and have them convey a message to the sellers that they should not be selling to a buyer with bad intentions.
Use our Civics - ArdWood and Ardmore Progressive - to let everyone know we want to keep the Baptist Church standing and converted to a mutually accepted use.
Property owners have certain legal rights to do what they want with their own property and that is good - most of us want the government out of our houses - but we also have ethical obligations to be good neighbors.
If Smerconish doesn't want to be that good neighbor, he doesn't need to be in Ardmore.