Steven Anderson's Comments on December 14, 2004

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The Save Ardmore Coalition

Statement by SAC Board Member Hugh B. Gordon before the Board of Commissioners of the Township of Lower Merion, Pennsylvania February 16, 2005

Last night, during the Bryn Mawr rezoning hearing, we were reminded of the terrible story of the Central and Summit Grove Avenue neighborhood after Bryn Mawr Hospital bought out a bunch of the houses. Over 100 residents of this compact neighborhood moved out. Then the hospital changed its mind. It doesn't know what it wants to do with that area. Meanwhile, all the houses it owns there have been left vacant and deteriorating, the yards overgrown, with pipes bursting and water damage causing ceilings to collapse. A vital, functioning neighborhood no longer exists.

The story of the Central and Summit Grove Avenue neighborhood in Bryn Mawr -- and we should recognize that what happened there is truly a crime -- this story is an object lesson about unplanned development in Lower Merion. Bryn Mawr Hospital blundered in and destroyed a neighborhood. If a comprehensive plan for the Bryn Mawr area from Lancaster Avenue to Haverford Road had been in place, this could not have happened. The Hospital and the residents would have known from the outset, one way or the other, whether the area was destined to remain single-family residential or whether it was to be allowed to develop as some kind of hospital auxiliary or commercial area.

The pernicious effects of this approach have also been demonstrated by the proposals for Ardmore redevelopment put forward by Hillier Architects and approved by the Township. No thoughtful comprehensive plan would have considered locating a 600-car garage next to the constricted Anderson Avenue underpass, or cramming 60 apartments into the narrow space between Lancaster Avenue and the train tracks.

As for the proposed 18,000 square feet of glitzy new retail proposed for the site where the existing businesses are to be bulldozed, the proposal represents no more than a mystical belief, a wish, a hope that bringing in an outside developer to do this will cause some mysterious regeneration process to occur in the entire business district. In the meantime, the specter of eminent domain hangs over the entire business district, deadening any incentive on the part of long-standing owners to invest. If it doesn't work, the Township will have effectively ruined the Ardmore business district and turned it into another Central Avenue. If it works, and it should be emphasized that Hillier has presented no data, no analysis, no comparables, in short, not a whiff of evidence of any kind to show that it can work, it will not only destroy the thriving business occupying the half-block to be bulldozed, but will drive away the lower-cost, locally-generated, service-oriented businesses that make up the essential fabric of our main street. Either way, we lose.

Mr. Comisky's op-ed piece in the Main Line Times [of January 27, 2005], previously mentioned, reminds us that the 2004 Residents' Survey, showed 73% of the respondents agreeing that the Township should "take a leadership role in the revitalization of Ardmore". He tells us this means 73% approve of the Hillier Option B proposal approved by the Township in January of 2005. He says, "These percentages are facts, not impressions derived from a few raised voices at a public meeting."

Mr. Comisky knows perfectly well that the survey was conducted last summer, at the time when we all thought the Township would get behind the Urban Land Institute's approach and recommendations for Ardmore revitalization. We did not know that the Township would be sending those recommendations to Hillier for consignment to the trash bin. We challenge Mr. Comisky to do current survey of the residents specifically asking whether they do approve of Hillier Option B, with its 6 story garage and its bulldozing of half a block of the Ardmore business district.

6,000 signatures were placed on petitions asking the Township not to do this. As the League of Women Voters letter [to Main Line Times, published January 27, 2005] pointed out, 100 out of the 114 speakers at public hearings opposed this plan, and quite a few individuals and organizations, as well as the ULI, delivered thoughtful counter-proposals for consideration. The Lower Merion Conservancy, the Merion Civic Association, the North Ardmore Civic Association, the ArdWood Civic Association, and five other civic associations have passed resolutions urging the Township not to adopt this plan. The board dismisses all this as just "a few raised voices at a public meeting". Come on, do you have no respect at all for the view of the people you have been elected to represent?

The residents of this Township are tired of this treatment and are beginning to push back. Spearheaded by a group of residents tired of having thoughtless development projects inflicted on an unwilling community, we have formed the Save Ardmore Coalition - SAC. Save Ardmore Coalition's mission is specifically to promote the revitalization of Ardmore's business district, based on four fundamental principles: community input, consensus building, sound and comprehensive planning, and the preservation of our architectural heritage. Four principles disregarded by the Township.

Like the ULI, we think the historic Ardmore business district is an asset to be preserved, not trashed. You will be hearing a lot more from and about the Save Ardmore Coalition in the coming weeks and months. We are holding our first public event on Monday, February 21, at 5:00 in front of the Township Building on Lancaster Avenue. This rally, scheduled to last only an hour, is being held in conjunction with nationwide rallies just before the United States Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the New London, Connecticut, eminent domain case. Come out and learn more about us on Monday.

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