Lilacs and Development Don't Smell So Sweet Together

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Well, well, well. Many thanks to Main Line Life for bringing us this editorial by one of our Vice Presidents:

MAIN LINE LIFE: May 8, 2008
Time for sweet scent of lilacs and new development plans
By Carla J. Zambelli

Ahhh Spring! The landscape is lush with greenness and the air heavy with the scents of lilac and old fashioned viburnum. But what else does spring bring us as citizens up and down the Main Line? A full course of new and disturbing smaller development plans to peruse.

By the time this column hits the ink of a newspaper, two new and bothersome plans will have made their debut in front of two separate townships: the proposed destruction of 236 N. Aberdeen Ave in North Wayne, and the super sizing of footprint of 106 Cricket Avenue in Ardmore.

The plans for 106 Cricket are being brought to the residents of Ardmore by the fine folks who brought them the plans for 130 Cricket. Suffice it to say, when the township agreed with the residents that 130 Cricket Avenue was a plan that left a lot to be desired, it went to court on appeal.

With regard to 106 Cricket, I will admit I am at a loss: what does a developer or property owner do with a site that contains a mortuary or funeral home when that use is to cease? Personally, I would find it creepy to live atop a former death depot, but it isn't up to me to judge. I will say that once again, as was the case of 130 Cricket, this plan is just too much plan for my comfort level. What happened to the thought of new development complimenting the surrounding area? Why is it most plans today simply overwhelm an area? No wait, don't answer that. Profit margins.

In North Wayne, residents recently defeated the proposed inclusion of a public storage facility in their extended neighborhood (or at least for the time being). Now they have received news that a house of serious local historic value faces demolition so someone can build new homes on the site of 236 N. Aberdeen Ave. New development on one of the most congested streets in North Wayne? And what of that little thing called impervious surface coverage and stormwater management?

Why on earth in an utterly flood prone area would anyone with a brain wish to double impervious surface coverage on a fairly steep sloped lot that leads to the Gulph Creek? A plan that could have an immediate and negative effect on residents on the low side of the creek? No wait, don't answer that. Profit margins.

Who cares about another small neighborhood, anyway? Who cares about the home that builder Joseph Lengel built for his own family in 1888 in North Wayne? Who cares that Joseph Lengel was one of the builders who executed the dreams of the famous architects who brought the fabulous structures to Wayne we all “ohh” and “ahh” over?

And while we are discussing plans, let’s revisit a few gems we have all read about or born witness to: Rugby Road in Bryn Mawr, Allaire on North Buck Lane in Haverford and the Exxon Station in Ardmore on Woodside and Montgomery. What is occurring with these plans? Are these plans moving forward?

Rugby Road is apparently still alive, and as for Allaire? Who knows. Perhaps people don't really don't wish to pay big bucks to overlook an auto body establishment and live across Lancaster Ave from a mattress store?

Finally, the plan to add a car wash and a mini mart convenience store to the Ardmore Exxon station? Seriously, what is wrong with these people? It’s not only a mostly residential area, but there is a WaWa right behind them, and a car wash already on Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore. Is it our fault that peddling gas isn't as profitable as it used to be? Well, cry me a river, but I am not all that sympathetic considering what we are paying for gasoline these days.

What happens to small neighborhoods when these plans stall, end up in court, or get approved and simply don't move forward as planned? Go visit some of these neighborhoods and judge for yourselves. It adds an air of sadness mingled with frustration. In a couple of cases, can it also be said it adds a whisper of true blight?

It is inconceivable that these odd small plans are still moving forward considering the current state of the economy, the real estate market, and the mortgage crisis, but they are. As affected residents, at times it feels like you have barely gotten through one issue, and yet another one arises. Maybe, just maybe, people had best take a look at proposed legislation in Pennsylvania (if it is still alive) that would allow local governments to exercise temporary development moratorias as needed: PA House Bill 904.

PA House Bill 904 is common sense, bi-partisan proposed legislation you have probably never heard of. Critics will argue that this raises property rights issues, but to them I ask the following questions: What isn't a property rights issue in PA? Don't residents in an area potentially to be affected by development still have private property rights as well?

Well, enough out of me. I am going for a walk. I want to take every opportunity to enjoy nature before it's all overdeveloped.

Carla J. Zambelli writes an occasional column for Main Line Life.

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