Target Gladwyne: Another Small Neighborhood at Risk

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SaveArdmoreCoalition's picture
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Just like Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford, a small neighborhood in Gladwyne finds itself at the epicenter of unwelcome, unnecessary, and potentially ugly neighborhood destroying development.

This project needs to be stopped.

This is one of the things up tonight at the Zoning Hearing Board at 7:15 p.m. ( www.lowermerion.org under "Township Meetings"):

Appeal No. 4063

Applicant: Rightcor LP
Property: 254 Righters Mill Road, Gladwyne, PA 19035
R 5 Residence District
Election District #1

The applicant seeks a special exception under §155-99 B to expand the nonconforming apartment house use by 25%, to demolish a detached garage, remove and replace an accessory building and erect an addition to the three-unit apartment house. The applicant also seeks a variance from §155-35 to permit the accessory building to be used as a dwelling unit without the restriction that it be occupied by a member of one of the families residing in the apartment house.

When will Lower Merion seek a moritorium on development? When will the zoning codes be changed to provide more protection? Why is this even being considered with regard to a Class 1 Historic Property? And if Class One historic properties can be targeted like this, how are any of us safe???? Would this developer put this proposed project on his own exclusive Gladwyne street????
Main Line Times: Gladwyne neighbors irked over more historic district development
By Rich Ilgenfritz 11/09/2006

GLADWYNE - A developer in Gladwyne is presenting a plan this week to change an historic building and apartments into a row of apartments.

Neighbors say the project will bring more traffic to their tranquil, residential street. The developer disagrees, arguing that the same number of people will continue to live on the site.

In July, Gary Gevurtz purchased the property at 254 Righters Mill Road in Gladwyne for $800,000. The house, which was constructed in 1880, is listed as a class one historic property under Lower Merion Township codes.

According to township records, Gevurtz has taken two potential plans to the township. His first option, or plan A, is to renovate the historic house, demolish a cottage house, and construct three new buildings on the property. The new structures would be linked to the main house and a driveway would run behind the houses.

But, Gevurtz also has another plan, which might be much more difficult for the township to approve. In his plan B plan, he would demolish the existing house, build a new road through the middle of the property and construct five new houses along this new cul-de-sac.

...Gevurtz, who is also a Gladwyne resident and lives less than a mile from the site, added that he wouldn't want to do anything if he thought it would harm the neighborhood.

Still, residents living in the area say they would have liked it if Gevurtz had come to them to discuss his ideas regarding the property.

"We would love to have a dialogue [with Gevurtz]," Doran added.

Gevurtz did not want to discuss his plan B. Instead, he would only say that if he receives the approvals for his initial plan, he wouldn't need to turn to plan B.

Since the main house is a class one structure, it could be difficult to get approval from the Board of Commissioners to demolish the building.

Lower Merion Commissioner Mark Taylor, who represents the neighborhood where the house is located, declined comment on the project when asked about it on Tuesday. Earlier that morning, Taylor saw the plan for the first time.

SAC Note: This property changed hands as per www.montcopa.org on 31-MAY-06. It was purchased for $800,000. Further and to the point, if the township paid closer attention, this property would not have been in such sorry shape, and might not even be considered as a target for gross development and/or demolition.

It is a shame that Commissioner Taylor inherited this issue from his pro-development predecessor, isn't it???

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doran249's picture
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The neighbors of Righters Mill Rd. are grateful to SAC for its support. We welcome sympathetic (and experienced) citizens of Lower Merion to testify this evening,7:15 at the Township Building. At this point in our overly developed township any new development must be gently nestled into a community. This plan has all the gentility of a freight train, and if approved tonight ends any chance of compromise.

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SaveArdmoreCoalition's picture
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The Zoning Hearing Board is different from other meeting formats. SAC members have no standing- your neighbors have standing.

We will be watching, don't worry, but the voice tonight that is important is your neighborhood's - you guys have to speak and show a presence.

Good luck.

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SaveArdmoreCoalition's picture
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Hi Gladwyne friends,

Please post an update so everyone knows how it went last night!

Thanks!

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doran249's picture
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The meeting was well attended by most of the neighbors on the street, many of the Gladwyne Civic Assn, and some HARB representatives.

Following an hour of background and viewing of architectural plans, that are totally outragious by the way, the board was trying to keep Mr. Fromhold to the topic of why the variance was necessary to break the deed restriction that occupants of the "in-law" single home in the back have to be related to someone in the 3 unit townhouse/apt. complex in front. There was not a straight answer to be found however.

Then the board asked which part of the historic home was actually historic. Gervertz, Fromhold and company claim that the additions (built in 1900) to the back of the house that was built 13 years earlier were not historic and therefore could be demolished to make room for the 2 3500sf-townhouses and 3 2-car garages that are going to be attached to the main house. About this time there was some mumbling between the board members and Mr. Wylie. Mr. Wylie then left for a bit and returned with printouts of the Pensylvania Historial Resource Survey inventory of the property.

When asked if Mr. Fromhold had ever seen the property's inventory, he said no. After some consulting with his client and witnesses, Mr. Fromhold asked for the hearing to be continued.

Imagine not researching the most basic resouce of historical properties! Crazy!
Anyway it is great for us, the neighbors and concerned citizens. We can gather strength, get some counsel, and go into the next meeting with guns ablazing!

Stay tuned...
Next meeting could be December, but more probably in January.

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SaveArdmoreCoalition's picture
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We are interested to know if the Lower Merion Conservancy attended and spoke because they do have standing and it IS a historic district and class one historic structure.

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doran249's picture
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Mike Weilbacher wasn't there, but I don't know if anyone else attended representing the Conservancy. And there wasn't an opportunity to speak before the hearing was cut short and continued. My husband asked a couple pointed questions to Mr. Fromhold, but that was it. I'm sure next time there will be ample opportunities for everyone to speak.

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SaveArdmoreCoalition's picture
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we thought Tara from the Conservancy was there. Maybe she was and didn't get a chance to speak because everything has been continued

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SaveArdmoreCoalition's picture
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A little birdie sent us some information that is neat because it goes with the history of the house:

Eugene Augustus Winter (1848 – 1934) is father of Joseph William Winter (1889 - 1956) formerly of Gladwyne and Penfield, Haverford Township, and grandfather to J. William Winter, my husband. We live in New Bern, North Carolina.

Ella Eugenia Winter (1886-1944) is, indeed, daughter of Eugene Augustus Winter and AnnaMaria Blanche Porter (1849 – 1929,) sister of Joseph William Winter, and wife of John Preston Stirk (1881-1966). Eugene and AnnaMaria Porter Winter are buried in the Odd Fellow Cemetery in Gladwyne. Clinton Stirk (d. 2006), son of John Preston Stirk and Ella Winter, was apparently the last family owner of the family home. His brother Leslie (1910 – 2000) lived in Havertown.

Eugene Winter was a carpenter and builder and built several of the large Victorian homes in Gladwyne (Merion Square.) Eugene’s projects followed the vogue of that time and built very high ceilings in each of the homes he built. When it came time for him to build his own home, he saw to it that the ceilings in it were higher than any of the others built in Gladwyne. The parlor of the home was carpeted in red plush wall-to-wall carpet, and two grand pianos stood back to back, one for Ella and one for Joseph, both of whom were talented musicians.

If there is a photograph of the Winter home available, we would appreciate receiving a scan of it.

J. William Winter and Marjorie B.Winter

sigh....houses with cool histories just beg to be saved....

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michael219's picture
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Many comments from people on this blog have no clue what they are talking about. The proposed homes look to be nicer than any on the street and will be architectually significant. The property is currently run down and looks terrible. The prior owner who neglected the property for years should be shunned, not the developer who wants to create an attractive environment.

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SaveArdmoreCoalition's picture
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So, Michael219, what is YOUR stake and interest in this property? 254 Righters Mill Road is a CLASS 1 RESOURCE located in a HISTORIC district. And if memory serves, this is a locally, nationally, and state recognized historic district.

Developers can't just roll on up and decide they want to "beautify" the neighborhood. This isn't about "creating an attractive environment" - this is about profit, correct? Is this developer going to move off his current 19035 street and move here?

Do you live in the neighborhood? Are you directly affected by the outcome of this project one way or the other?

The previous owner of the home is deceased, and why should he or his family be shunned? His family is part of the fabric of the history of Gladwyne. Should have the previous owner kept up the property better? Probably, but again, he's dead, so we can't really ask him about it, and furthermore, this house has managed to survive this long, it should survive into the future. The case can be considered that if a developer has the money to toss towards creating a row of McMansions on a cul de sac that no one wants or really needs, then this developer can afford to also correctly restore the house and grounds, right?

The development in this area has got to stop for a while. Not all of the blame can be placed on developers alone. Blame can also be laid at the feet of local government. Many are too pro development, and if that is the stance they are going to take, we should have a new comprehensive plan in place. Blame can also be laid at the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for not having enough protections of small and historic neighborhoods in their Municipal Planning Code.

Please feel free to contribute to the dialogue, but please refrain from telling the neighbors of Righters Mill Road that they are wrong for how they feel.

National Trust for Historic Preservation: What's Wrong With Teardowns

Loss of Historic Houses
Teardowns often destroy older homes
that are part of the community’s heritage.

Loss of Community Character
Without proper safeguards, historic
neighborhoods will lose the identity
that drew residents to put down roots
in the first place.

Loss of Livability
Neighborhood livability is diminished as
trees are removed, backyards are eliminated,
and sunlight is blocked by towering
new structures built up to the property
lines.

Loss of Diversity
Community economic and social diversity
is reduced as new mansions replace
affordable homes

Glossary of Teardown Terms

Accessory Structure:
structure that is detached from a principal
structure (dwelling) on the same
lot, and customarily incidental and subordinate
to the principal structure or
use; increasingly seen as offering affordable
housing options in tight real
estate markets.

Character: special physical
characteristics of a neighborhood or
area that set it apart from its surroundings
and contribute to its individuality.

Character-Defining: a distinctive
architectural feature or combination
of features or qualities that distinguish
one building, neighborhood or
area from another.

Canyon Effect: term given to
a straight, usually blank, multi-story
wall going up next to an existing house.

Conservation District: an
area located primarily in residential
neighborhoods that has a distinct physical
character and preservation or conservation
as the primary goal; accomplished
through a variety of approaches
including the adoption of a zoning overlay
or independent zoning district, in
order to provide protection for characterdefining
streetscapes in older areas
threatened by new development or governmental
policies that undermine
rather than encourage neighborhood
preservation by the application of
neighborhood-specific design criteria
and/or development controls.

Designation: act of identifying
historic structures and districts subject
to regulation in historic preservation
ordinances or other preservation laws.

Historic District: an area
that generally includes within its
boundaries a significant concentration
of properties linked by architectural
style, historical development, or a past
event; may be designated locally by
governing body and subject to design
review procedures or advisory only;
also may be designated at state or federal
level on the National Register of
Historic Places.

Impact: the effect of any direct
man-made actions or indirect repercussions
of man-made actions on existing
physical, social, or economic conditions.

Mansionization: the process
of oversized McMansions replacing
homes in an older historic neighborhood.

Loom Factor: a function of
building size, location, height, coverage
and design; lot grading, landscaping
and other factors also contribute to the
perception of “loom;” derived from
houses the loomed over the street,
their neighbors or that changed the
existing patterns or neighborhood character.

McMansion: bulky, out-of-scale
new homes on small parcels where they
do not fit the existing character of a community;
some additional common terms
used regionally are “faux chateaux,”
“monster home,” “starter castle,”
“hummer house,” “garage mahal,”
“trophy home,” “big box Victorian,” “pink
palace,” “Tara on a quarter-acre,” and
“bigfoot.”

National Register of Historic
Places: official inventory of
“districts, sites, buildings, structure, and
objects significant in American history,
architecture, archaeology, engineering
and culture 16 U.S.C. § 470a/36 C.F.R.
part 60.

Rule of Three: a new house will
be three times as big and cost three
times as much as the old house it replaces
in a teardown.

Teardowns: the practice of purchasing
a home on a lot, demolishing
it, and constructing a new, larger house
in its place; the purchased home is
typically small and older; the newly
built house is oversized for the lot and
out-of-character with the neighborhood;
also referred to as “knockdowns,”
“scrape-offs,” “bash and build,”
“bulldozers,” and “scrapers.”

Zoning: the primary regulatory instrument
for implementing the general
plan. Zoning divides a community into
districts or "zones" which specify the
permitted and prohibited uses.

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dmuth's picture
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> Many comments from people on this blog have no clue what they are
> talking about.

Wow, nice flame there, Michael. Rather than try to quantify your statements, I see that you instead chose to insult other people and call them clueless. That's real mature.

So, the $25,000 question: Who IS michael219, anyway?.

A quick look through the logs shows that michael219 came from IP address 65.219.205.254, which resolves to host254.preit.com.

And who is preit.com? A quick visit to http://www.preit.com/ identifies them as the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust.

While michael219 is certainly entitled to his opinions, it would appear that he has some involvement with a real estate company.

Just so we're all clear about peoples' motivations here.

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michael219's picture
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I dont live in Gladwyne and dont have vested interest in this development. I grew up in Gladwyne and stay up to date with the news.

I'm less interested in the details and more facinated how this blog has demonized this developer and others. Yes, I am partial just as you are.

Good luck with your fight and I look forward to hearing how it turns out.

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SaveArdmoreCoalition's picture
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Michael219 wrote "I'm less interested in the details and more facinated how this blog has demonized this developer and others. Yes, I am partial just as you are."

Demonized a developer? Hardly. What you are seeing is simply a case of (once again), a developer playing Professor Henry Higgins and presenting his Pygmalion, his Galatea. But the neighbors see this as an alien invasion, and are upset because this is a historic district. This is not the place in their opinion for such a development, or the prospect of development and they, as well as us, are entitled to this opinion. And generally, what is seen up here isn't any better or worse than you can see any time you open up a newspaper

If this developer wants to go from demon to angel, the simple solution is for him to restore the house at 254 Righters Mill Road as it is now. The best solution is for this to become once again, a stately single family home. That is the best solution for this neighborhood, which again is HISTORIC. And if this developer has the money to do what he is proposing, he also has the money to do the right thing. But will he? Or could this property become a case of demolition by neglect so hands are forced?

There is too much development in this township. There is NO comprehensive plan in place, and all that seems to happen is new construction, new developments, and constant tear downs of viable older and historic homes.

Condo Nation has to stop, or soon, Lower Merion will be indistiguishable from Center City Philadelphia. This is not an URBAN environment, it is a SUBURBAN environment. Further and to the point, all of these crazy huge projects keep getting built with nary a thought to the impact on basic infrastructure, schools, or long term success. How many million dollar ghettos of the future does anyone need?

There should be a cap on development. And again, as much as anything else, local and state government is at fault as any developer. Government needs to do more, be proactive and instead of lamenting every bad project that comes along, it needs to gorw balls once in a while and just say no.

And if government can't say no, the public deserves more than supercilious B.S. and quoting from Westlaw and the Municipal Planning Code - the public deserves action. And if the public doesn't see a balance achieved, then come next election, the public needs to vote out the weakest links.

And if we are bad people because we wish to maintain the architectural and historic integrity of this township, then we're "baaad" people. But again, we thank you for your part in the conversation, as it accurately displays both sides of this tarnished coin.

Also, given your expertise, what would you do if you were this developer? What would you do if you were in local or state government? We're not being antagonistic, we're genuinely curious.

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dmuth's picture
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Fair enough.

Though I think it would help all around to stick to the issues and avoid insults, no?

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SaveArdmoreCoalition's picture
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we'll play nice with others now...just felt a need to clear the air...mini rant over... :<}

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I would just like to thank michael219 for publicly stating that my family should be shunned for neglecting our former home. What a delight it is to read insulting threads about my family.

My father, J. Clinton Stirk, absolutely LOVED his home at 254 Righters Mill Road in Gladwyne. He took great pride in maintaining not only our house, often referred to in articles as the "large cottage" but the 3 car garage and large apartment building also located on the 1.3 acre parcel of land. It meant a great deal to him that five generations of Stirks had lived on this property.

However, last year it became necessary for my mother and father to sell 254 Righters Mill Road. My father had been quite ill for some time and passed away in February of this year at the age of 81. Even during his illness, Dad continued to solely maintain the upkeep of the large property. It gave him great joy to do so and he was very proud of his home. My father NEVER neglected the upkeep of the property if he could help it.

Therefore, I would request that people show more respect in their threads now that they have additional facts from a DIRECT family member.

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doran249's picture
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I hope the Stirk family will find some comfort and respect in the short written history of the property which can be found at "Gladwyne Development goes before HARB" on the SAC Home page. Its intent is to enlighten the community to some local history that might only be known to a few. It is also an effort to prevent the products of this family's labor and the architectural records of this local Gladwyne history from being destroyed.

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SaveArdmoreCoalition's picture
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Susan - please contact the webmaster, there is a member of SAC who remembers you from childhood that would like to say hello.

We know your dad loved the property because our member that remembers you is also a friend of a former tenant. However, the house does need work, and probably did get past him over the past few years, because as you say, he was 81 and ill. That isn't being mean, and isn't meant to be offensive...old houses are so much maintenance which is why many developers don't like them... Quite a few of us have been by the place and some of us have been in the place before it was sold.

We believe the last tenants moved out between April, 2005 and that summer. It almost looked recently like someone was still there, actually.

The problem with blogging, Susan, is people are entitled to their opinions--- michael219 is suspect, anyway. You can see what our webmaster said...

What you should take comfort in, Susan, is how many people are interested in saving your family home. That is why one of our members searched geneology websites to find other branches of your family, the Winter family of North Carolina, to be precise.

What we would love for you to do, if you could, if you wanted to, would be to write up HERE a post about your family and your memories. Especially if you think any of it could help save the home.

Again, we're sorry about your being upset. Thank you for writing.

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