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Palmer Seminary Rezoning OKed; Hearing on City Ave. Rezoning Delayed Again

Another public hearing concerning a City Avenue traffic impact fee for new development has been scheduled for July 27 by the Township Board of Commissioners.

For a second time, the Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners delayed its vote Wednesday night on whether to hold a public hearing and adopt an ordinance on the City Avenue rezoning proposal, after several civic associations from all over the Township and members of the public asked the committee to table its vote.

The Board did vote on another issue concerning City Avenue when it approved a recommendation for a public hearing, and adopt an amendment, for July 27—to establish a development traffic impact fee for the City Avenue Transportation Service Area (TSA). Township officials have stressed that establishing a TSA does not require rezoning.

Palmer Theologiocal Seminary; Clover Market

In other business, the Board of Commisisoners, in a special meeting, voted unanimously to approve rezoning for the Palmer Theological Seminary at 6 Lancaster Avenue in Wynnewood, from an "R3" residence district to an "R7" classification. The decision paves the way for developer Cross Properties to  into more than 130 rental units, in what could be a $30 million project. 

There was no dicussion about the vote by the Commission or the public.

Also Wednesday, the Board's Building & Planning Committee voted unanimously to recommend a request from the Ardmore Initiative to expand the Clover Market—to include a section of Cricket Terrace between Rittenhouse Place and South Cricket Terrace on three Sundays in October and November this fall. The committee recommended the waiver of a $60 per day fee to close a section of public roadway, in return for a one-time $90 fee.

City Avenue

The City Avenue rezoning project would establish an ordinance proposing changes in use along City Avenue in Bala Cynwyd, in an effort to increase commercial development.  The ordinance would create two new zoning districts: the regional center district and a retail district (which includes the existing Bala Cynwyd Shopping Center), grouped together.

While giving an update on the rezoning proposal, Robert Duncan, director of building and planning for Lower Merion Township, announced that the Transportation Service Area Advisory Committee (which is commonly referred to by township officials as TSAAC) has suggested several amendments to the ordinance in response to the public’s concerns and suggestions.

The amendments to the City Avenue district proposal include reducing the maximum building height in one development section from 300 feet to 250 feet, decreasing the permitted height of a another area from 250-foot buildings to 200-foot buildings, extending a 120-foot maximum building height down to St. Asaphs Road and Belmont Avenue, Duncan said.

The advisory committee also added a provision for multiple-use development in the Bala Cynwyd retail district to help insure the retail character of the Bala Cynwyd Shopping Center, Duncan said.

During public comment, John Grugan, president of the Neighborhood Club of Bala Cynwyd, said while he could not speak on behalf of the civic association because it had not had the chance to vote on the ordinance amendments, he supported the amendments but wanted the civic association to have the opportunity to review the amendments in writing.

Grogan said the Neighborhood Club of Bala Cynwyd was grateful to the Commissioners Brian McGuire, Paul McElhaney and George Manos for meeting with the civic several times regarding the rezoning. 

“We think we are on the road to striking the right balance … We’re looking forward to seeing a draft of the ordinance,” Grogan said.

McGuire said the changes to the ordinance were just arrived at that Wednesday afternoon, which was the same day as the Building and Planning Committee meeting.

“We’re hoping as early as tomorrow to incorporate these provisions into the ordinance,” McGuire said.

In all, there were about 30 members of the public in the audience and some 20 of them stayed until the meeting ended at 12:30 a.m. in order to comment on the proposal.  Most residents said they were opposed or concerned about the project, while speakers from the business community, including the owner of the Bala Cynwyd Shopping Center, said they were in favor of the rezoning.

Members of the Merion Civic Association and the Wynnewood Civic Association said the township had never consulted their civic groups about the rezoning proposal and they wanted to see the ordinance tabled to allow for further discussion.

Kevin Murphy, president of the Merion Civic Association, called the proposal the “most aggressive” development ever proposed in Lower Merion.

“This gigantic project was never brought to our civic,” Murphy said.  “Id’ like to see this ordinance tabled, not squashed, tabled.”

Commissioner Brian Gordon looked out into the audience at one point during the meeting and said he saw many Merion residents.

Gordon, who represents Merion, said from what he had heard from Merion residents, they are concerned the development will cause increased cut-through traffic on side streets, the “urbanization” of Lower Merion, and that the township will be jammed with traffic.  He said his constituents are also concerned about the “absence of a real vision” with the proposal, the “absence of real public transportation” and retaining the green character of the township.

Carole Strickland of the Wynnewood Civic Association’s Land Use and Zoning Committee said she thought the commissioners were trying “to push through some decisions” prior to completion of a series of public workshops on the rezoning.

“People from Wynnewood have to travel through Bala Cynwyd, too…WE do request that this be tabled until at least October,” Strickland said.

Bala Cynwyd resident Barry Polis questioned how increasing the supply of retail and office buildings along City Line Avenue would increase the demand when there were currently vacancies in the existing commercial spaces, argued that if the size of commercial space was doubled then traffic would also increase, and said he disagreed that the development would make Bala Cynwyd a more desirable area.

“This is not something that should be decided by the commissioners,” Polis said.  “It should be on the ballot because this is too big of a change.”

Manos said he agreed it was important to get the other civic associations’ input but that when you look at the impact of the development there really is no comparison to the impact it will have on Bala Cynwyd.

Manos said he was willing to propose delaying the vote.

Board of Commissioners President Liz Rogan asked Duncan to draft the ordinance amendments into the document and agreed to table the vote on scheduling a public hearing on the ordinance.  Rogan said people don’t pay attention to an issue until it’s down to the wire.

The committee also tabled its vote on a public hearing about the City Avenue rezoning ordinance at an April 13 meeting in order to allow commissioners to meet with the Neighborhood Club of Bala Cynwyd.

On Wednesday night, Rogan also tabled a vote on scheduling a public hearing for the proposed City Avenue district map amendments and then closed the meeting at 12:25 a.m. before the committee was able to discuss several other items on the agenda.

Earlier in the meeting during the discussion about the proposed traffic impact fee ordinance for the City Avenue Transportation Service Area, Commissioners Scott Zelov and Jenny Brown said that they did not think the rezoning proposal for City Avenue was ready for a public hearing, although Zelov acknowledged that the traffic impact fee ordinance is a separate process. 

“Too often things are dropped before our board before they’re ready for prime time,” Brown said, adding that it upsets the constituents and members of the board.

Rogan disagreed with Brown and said the public discussion about the whether to rezone City Avenue had been going on for two years.

Earlier in the meeting, the committee voted 9-3 to recommend that the Board of Commissioners hold a public hearing and adopt an ordinance amendment on July 27 to establish a development traffic impact fee for the City Avenue Transportation Service Area. 

Commissioners Brown, Cheryl Gelber and Louis Gould voted against the recommendation.  Commissioners McElhaney and Philip Rosenzweig were absent from the meeting.

The fee would be charged for any new development in the TSA district that generates additional traffic during the afternoon peak hour and the money would be used for off-site roadway improvements within the TSA district.  The fee would range between $1,400 and $1,800 per vehicle trip generated by the new development, according to a memorandum about the fee that was written by Duncan.

Gelber asked to amend the motion so that the public hearing would still be held on July 27 but the vote to adopt the ordinance would not be held on the same night.

Gelber’s motion failed with a 7-5 vote.

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