Lower Merion Township and the EPIC FAIL: State Says No Dice on RCAP Grant

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Update: State declines Lower Merion's One Ardmore Place RACP grant application Published: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 By Cheryl Allison

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Lower Merion Township officials have received news today that puts its long-awaited Ardmore revitalization effort in serious question.

Board of Commissioners President Liz Rogan confirmed Monday night that the township received a copy of a letter today that was sent to the Redevelopment Authority of Montgomery County by the Pennsylvania Office of the Budget.

The letter notifies the Redevelopment Authority that the township’s application to use $12 million in state RACP or Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grants for a mixed-use project on the township’s Cricket Avenue parking lot in partnership with Dranoff Properties is being withdrawn.

The letter from Pete Tartline, deputy executive secretary of the Office of Budget and addressed to Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Jerry Nugent, indicates that Gov. Tom Corbett is prepared to release the remaining $3.5 million of a total $15.5 million earmarked for the Ardmore Transit Center project for improvements directly related to the Ardmore Train Station.

The Cricket lot project, dubbed One Ardmore Place by developer Carl Dranoff, includes 121 apartments, some street-level retail space, and three levels of public parking to replace and slightly increase parking available today.

When I heard the news, I wasn't surprised. After all, people had been saying to Doug Cleland and Liz Rogan for YEARS that they were worried that the RCAP grant could not be applied to a luxury apartment building, right?

I will let Hugh Gordon pick it up (from his post)

The Commonwealth's Office of the Budget has rejected the application of Lower Merion Township, acting through the Redevelopment Authority of Montgomery County, to apply $12.3 million of Redevelopment Assistant Capital Project (RACP) funds to subsidizing the construction of an 8-level apartment complex and parking structure on the Cricket Lot.

These funds were originally intended to be applied to redevelopment at the Ardmore Station. The developer Carl Dranoff, working with Township officials, Bruce Reed and Doug Cleland in particular, proposed a grandiose mixed use project with a new "mini Main Street" which was to be stuffed between the stores on the north side of Lancaster Avenue and the train tracks. This would have included retail spaces on the ground floor, a 500-car garage, and a couple of hundred apartments.

Dranoff was instrumental in obtaining $15+ million in RACP grant money from the state under the Rendell administration. Problem was, nobody had bothered to talk to Amtrak and SEPTA, and eventually they discovered that, no, they would not be allowed to cantilever the structure over the tracks, and, no, they wouldn't be allowed to build right up to the tracks.

So the project kept getting squeezed into a narrower and narrower space. They also belatedly discovered that public funds for further subsidies to the project would not be forthcoming, despite Cleland's repeated expressions of confidence and certainty that adequate funds would be available. (The project also included a hare-brained proposal to tear down the 5-year-old Police Annex, build the garage, and then reconstruct the Police Annex inside the garage.)

So they had to give this up, and Dranoff was released from any further responsibility to redevelop the Train Station. They then shifted their attention to the Cricket Lot, which is owned by the Township.

In 2004 a panel of the Urban Land Institute studied Ardmore. One of the panel's main conclusions was that the Cricket Lot was a prime space for mixed use redevelopment (retail and residential), and that developers would jump at the opportunity. No subsidy would be necessary. Instead of following this advice (in fact, for some reason Township staff showed impressive zeal in quickly trashing the entire panel report), the Township, under the "leadership" of Bruce Reed, gave Dranoff a five-year exclusive right (since then extended a couple of times) to redevelop all Township-owned lots in Ardmore, including the Cricket Lot.

Dranoff claimed that it is impossible to build "market rate" apartment buildings in the area without a subsidy, a somewhat peculiar assertion given the considerable number of proposed apartment buildings with land development approval scattered about Lower Merion, including one right around the corner from the Cricket Lot on East Athens Avenue. The Township was willing to subsidize Dranoff's project by virtually giving him the lot (at a low price to be paid over 20 years) and by shifting $12.3 million of the RACP grant from the Train Station to the Cricket Lot.

At meetings of the Ardmore Ad Hoc Committee, members of the public kept asking, have you ascertained that it would be permissible to shift these funds from the Train Station to this private project? The answer was always vague and equivocal, but delivered with expressions of complete confidence that, oh yes, yes, no problem. It now appears that this confidence was misplaced.....The $12.3 million could have been used at the Train Station, enabling the construction of a garage for commuters and customers on the current SEPTA lot and the Township lot stretching east to the Police Annex, thereby permitting the Cricket Lot project to incorporate a smaller garage. This would have required the input of some public funding from the Township to top up what would be needed to complete the Train Station redevelopment.

Following its long-standing policy of relying solely on what it thinks of as "Other People's Money," the Township has steadfastly refused to consider doing this. The result as of this morning is that $12.3 million of the RACP money has been forfeited. The Commonwealth has identified other uses for these funds. Going forward, the Township is certain to protest mightily against this decision of the Office of the Budget. Liz Rogan has already stated that the decision is based on mistaken premises.

So I wonder who will be held accountable? What a lot of people don't realize is this was something Lower Merion residents and commissioners like Lew Gould have asked about for YEARS: if Lower Merion Township did not build the train station and PUBLIC parking lot it was supposed to, would the grant monies legally be able to be used? Doug Cleland and Liz Rogan and Angela Murray all kept saying this RCAP thing could apply to Dranoff's Cricket Lot project even if nothing else was done didn't they? Or was it they never really answered because they never really knew and kept pressing forward and wasting time and taxpayer money anyway?

Of course now Doug Cleland is on his way out the door with all his retirement dough Lower Merion residents have provided so he will never be accountable for this EPIC FAIL will he?

So will people like Angela Murray and Liz Rogan ever be held accountable? Ardmore's biggest problem always has been that Lower Merion Township is in it.

So now that Darth Vader, err former Commissioner of Destruction is on the Ardmore Initiative Board what is he going to do? Fair question since he is one of the original architects of eminent domain, right?

Again, I wish I could say I was surprised, but I am not. Lower Merion Township left a bad taste in people's mouths when they attempted eminent domain, and certainly the entire way they have handled "Ardmore Redevelopment" has been less than stellar. After all, how many meetings did people go to over the years including years of the orchestrated Ardmore Ad Hoc Committee where people wondered why they bothered participating because they felt everything in Lower Merion was settled ahead of time behind closed doors with a distinct lack of sunshine?

Image and video hosting by TinyPic If Dranoff can't move forward I don't see that as a negative. If he had actually been building a parking lot and new train station I probably would see it as a negative, but if a giant behemoth of an apartment building in already congested Ardmore doesn't get built on land that used to be taxpayer owned, well you know what? That means there will still be parking and space for things like Clover Market and First Friday Main Line, right? As in the organic growth people have loved over the years? It means there will be parking still for restaurants, small businesses and the music venues Ardmore Music Hall and Melodies (formerly known as MilkBoy) Café. And speaking of MilkBoy, would they all have left Ardmore if it wasn't for the looming specter of Dranoff development and Lower Merion's screwed up never happening badly planned and executed Ardmore Redevelopment? They are polite nice people so we'll never know for sure, but it does make you wonder doesn't it?

It will be interesting to see how Liz Rogan and some spin this. I expect there will be much breast beating and they will work in a full-blown Corbett administration/ Republican Conspiracy. Which of course couldn't be father from the truth in this instance. The truth is they believed their own emperor's new clothes hype and did not read the fine print.

One last thing that has always made me wonder: Does Carl Dranoff actually really want to redevelop Ardmore? I ask because since he was chosen after what's his name bailed as developer he has done a lot of OTHER projects not in Ardmore, right? They seemed to get whatever funding they needed flawlessly and get done haven't they? We keep hearing of more and more projects in Philadelphia and lord knows the City of Philadelphia is a cesspool of convoluted politics, zoning, and whatever, right?

So is it Carl Dranoff wants to redevelop Ardmore or he is more interested in saving face in light of bungle compounded by bungle on the part of Lower Merion Township?

Or is it just a case of which came first the chicken or the egg and maybe they just should have built a freaking train station and parking lot and been done with it?

Merry Christmas and no one wastes money like Lower Merion Township do they? (Well Radnor and their Ardrossan swamp land are a close second, right?)

Letter From the Commonwealth by andystettler

Main Line Times > News Rogan addresses Gould's questions on developer's agreement for Cricket Lot Published: Saturday, November 16, 2013 By Cheryl Allison

Main Line Times > Opinion Letter: Gould questions lack of transparency around Dranoff Development Agreement Published: Monday, November 18, 2013

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