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Cricket Lot Development Agreement Approved

Carl Dranoff would put approximately 120 residential units on Cricket Avenue in Ardmore, along with commercial tenants.

After a long and spirited discussion Wednesday night, the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners' Economic Revitalization Committee voted 8-3 to recommend approval of an amended agreement with Dranoff Properties for the development of the Cricket Avenue parking lot in Ardmore. The full board will vote on the agreement Dec. 19.

Dranoff's mixed use project will include 121 apartments, retail space and a mix of public/private parking on the current site of the Cricket Avenue municipal parking lot. The Cricket lot development was originally one part of a revitalization effort focusing on transit improvements and a commuter parking garage, but the two projects will now be pursued separately as efforts to secure public funds for the transit improvements project continue.

In June, commissioners voted to extend the township’s agreement with Dranoff Properties through Dec. 31 to give the Township Negotiating Committee time to work with Dranoff on a modified development agreement, the product of which commissioners recommended for approval on Wednesday. Commissioners will still need to approve any land development plan brought forth by Dranoff.

The revised development agreement ties Dranoff exclusively to the Cricket lot development, but several commissioners expressed confidence in the viability of the train station and parking garage project despite its separation from the Dranoff plan.

Dranoff's plan will bring in new residents and retailers as well as an estimated $380,000 per year in property taxes, the majority of which would go to the school district, Commissioner Cheryl Gelber said. The apartments are projected to add few students to the school district, she added.

Construction would add an estimated 900 jobs and $37 million in earnings, and after construction, an estimated 80 retail jobs annually and $2 million in earnings, Gelber added.

The township has no monetary obligation for the Cricket site, but $8 million, $10 million or $12 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funds—of $15.5 total in RACP funds that have been designated for the Ardmore revitalization project—would be used for the Cricket lot project, said Angela Murray, Assistant Director of Community & Economic Development. Which of the three amounts is used for the Cricket site depends on the size of the parking portion of the site.

Dranoff presented three options for size and parking, which commissioners will eventually vote on, with a deadline of September 2013, according to the new agreement. The height along Cricket Avenue will remain at four stories, with another side of the building either six, seven or eight stories, based on the amount of parking, Dranoff said. Only in the 8-story plan would there be a net gain in public parking for Cricket Avenue, and even that gain is moderate, with approximately 30 additional public parking spaces, for a total of 210 public spaces.

The small parking gains, or possibility of a net loss in parking, was a major focus of resident comment. Several business owners spoke up during the public comment portion of the presentation to tell commissioners they fear they will be negatively affected during the construction phase.

“I’m very concerned I won’t be able to sustain my business or stay in that space if this project goes forward,” said Maria Love, of Gymboree Play Music on Lancaster Avenue. Since Love’s business caters to mothers with young children, having no parking for families “would be putting me out of business,” she said.

Dranoff would be responsible for finding temporary parking for construction vehicles and workers during the construction phase of the site. The township will identify temporary parking for businesses, a process that's been in the works for years, Murray said in an email.

Commissioner Jenny Brown raised strong concerns with the potential for a net loss in parking spaces if the project moves forward. To say the township wants to do the project for the existing businesses, but come out with less parking or only moderate gains in parking doesn't make sense, Brown said. Eight years ago, were this the original proposal, no one on the board would have voted for it, she said. 

“Give me a little credit,” Dranoff told commissioners and residents in a heated speech, after several suggestions that a new developer be considered for the project. “… Some things I’ve heard tonight are positively ridiculous,” he added, emphasizing his commitment to the project and the estimated $44 million his company will put into it.

I can’t believe that I’m hearing some of the comments that I’m hearing, so many years later, and it convinces me that some people don’t want to see anything happen, despite what they actually say," said Commissioner Philip Rosenzweig, who argued for approval of the agreement. Rosenzweig reminded residents that some project funds were procured by Dranoff and if Dranoff doesn't build the project, "the money goes away."

Part of the reason PennDOT and SEPTA are interested in the revitalization project is because of the momentum created by the Cricket project, he added.

"I think that it is the only way we get ... the positive development momentum, the only way we get the actual transit improvements that we want, it's the only way we get the revitalization, the people on the street—we take Ardmore, and we turn it into the vital center that will endure for decades. It is a game changer."

"We are trying to do a revitalization project. We’re not trying to do a parking project, we’re not even trying to do a residential project. We’re not even trying to do a commercial project. We are trying to make this place a place that is vibrant, alive, and we’re only doing that by doing many things at once," said Board President Liz Rogan. To make a decision based on the number of parking spaces is losing sight of that, and voting down the project would mean not even being able to start on transit improvements, she added. 

After a four-hour discussion, the board voted 8-3 to approve the agreement, with Commissioners Daniel Bernheim, Lew Gould and Brown voting against. Board Vice President Paul McElhaney, along with Commissioners Jane Dellheim and Steven Lindner—both of whom represent part of Ardmore—were absent.

If the project moves forward as anticipated, Dranoff would submit a sketch plan by October 2013, and pending final plan approval, construction would begin in December 2014.

View the full schedule, as well as more details on funding and design, in the attached PDF.

Updated 11:30 am: the approval vote was a function of the Economic Revitalization Committee, not the Building and Planning Committee.

Updated 1:30 pm: Information on use of RACP funds, and temporary parking during construction, has been added.

Bob Guzzardi December 13, 2012 at 11:36 AM
There does not appear to be government money subsidizing the project. Is that correct? If taxpayers are not forced to subsidy a private, for profit development,then this seems like a positive development for Ardmore.
Brian A. December 13, 2012 at 01:04 PM
"Part of the reason PennDOT and SEPTA are interested in the revitalization project is because of the momentum created by the Cricket project, he added." This makes no sense. What does one have to do with the other? It is not as if the Cricket lot borders the train station, it really doesn't. Is this just a bone thrown to us train commuters to make us feel better about having to use such an awful run-down station while the revitalization money goes elsewhere?
Kate Galer December 13, 2012 at 02:24 PM
I hope Dellheim and Lindner are there on the 19th. It would be a shame if the neighborhood this is being foisted upon does not have a vote.
MerionManor December 13, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Please, more development? Forget it!
Alex McDonnell December 13, 2012 at 05:24 PM
I can't imagine that Delheim and Lindner will vote against it.
Amanda Mahnke (Editor) December 13, 2012 at 06:25 PM
The township has no monetary obligation for the Cricket site, but $8 million, $10 million or $12 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funds—of $15.5 total in RACP funds that have been designated for the Ardmore revitalization project—would be used for the Cricket lot project, Angela Murray, Assistant Director of Community & Economic Development, said. (The article has been updated to add this paragraph.)
Roberta Evantash December 13, 2012 at 08:33 PM
I do not understand the project in its entirety but for many years I have wondered why the Ardmore business district remains flat, old fashioned and unappealing. If this is a way to revitalize it why wouldn't the plan be enthusiastically accepted? I am aware there are always political forces to be reckoned with and many business owners do not want to be displaced during a renovation but this attitude has crippled positive change. As an Ardmore resident I would welcome a more desirable shopping area.
Forward Thinking Resident December 15, 2012 at 04:07 AM
@Roberta - I couldn't agree more...since when is development bad, the article shows how many jobs and the tax payer dollars that will be brought the neighborhood, not only that but most likely these apartments won't be cheap, so more people with more disposable income spending their money in a town they want to be in and is walkable. This is the future of Ardmore.
Tim Rabbit December 17, 2012 at 10:05 PM
It would be wise to treat Econsult's projections about the economic boost this kind of project will bring with a great deal of skepticism. Once the construction project is finished, very few long-term jobs remain.
Kate Galer December 17, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Alex , I am sure they will vote for it. But it is helpful to know that they are fully informed by attending.meetings and listening to public comment. @Roberta and Forward Thinking resident- you can be for development and not for this project as it stands. There could be much more thoughtful development that incorporates all the positives that already exist in Ardmore. The only way that this development will make the way for increased walkability is if it paves the way for wholesale demo and redevelopment on that side of Lancaster. What is the likelihood of that? Ardmore has done an ok job of revitalizing itself while this has dragged on.
Bob Guzzardi December 20, 2012 at 04:16 PM
What is the estimated value of the Cricket lot? If the total cost is $44 million plus $ 15.5 million tax payer contribution (without adding in value of Cricket lot, then, if I understand this correctly, about 25% of project is taxpayer subsidized. Is that right?
Adrian Seltzer December 20, 2012 at 11:00 PM
The township has no monetary obligation for the Cricket site, but $8 million, $10 million or $12 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funds—of $15.5 total in RACP funds that have been designated for the Ardmore revitalization project—would be used for the Cricket lot project, Angela Murray, Assistant Director of Community & Economic Development, said. Question, where did RACP funds come from?
Bob Guzzardi December 21, 2012 at 12:47 AM
RCAP is the capital budget for the State. Act 130 of 2011 and Act 193 of 2012 were the last two capital budget bills and incurred additional debt of $4.6 billion including interest. I would think the Cricket Ave development was part of those bills. It may, however, have been included in a previous year's capital budget. Oddly, it seems the Republican controlled General Assembly and the Republican Governor are funding a politically connected Rendell Democrat. http://www.scribd.com/doc/115305569/OpEd-for-Germantown-Newspapers-Republicans-Add-4-6-BBillion-Dollars-of-New-Debt-ovrer-10-month-period Debt is deferred taxation and Commonswealth's taxpayers are already heavily burdend with debt of about $121 billion in state and local debt. http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/research/detail/pennsylvania-government-debt All of this is paid for by Pennsylvania's Forgotten Taxpayer and all of this money is siphoned from productive economy, that is, the government has become a venture capitalist!
Bob Guzzardi December 21, 2012 at 12:48 AM
RACP is paid for by Pennsylvania's Forgotten Taxpayers.
Joel Tomar Levin September 27, 2013 at 06:24 PM
A short film documenting the Cricket Lot Development: http://facebook.com/cricketlot

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