2015 Voter's Guide: Ward 11 (Bill Madway and Tiffany O’Neill)
1. What is one thing you would like to see changed in Lower MerionTownship? Please explain how you will work to effectuate that change.
Bill Madway: There are many things I plan to focus on as a member of the Board of Commissioners. For example, finding more efficient ways to deliver township services, so we can maintain and, where necessary, improve the quality of services we provide residents without busting our budget. In addition, prudently managing our capital improvement program, so we make the necessary investments in roads, bridges, and other public facilities, before expensive breakdowns occur. And encouraging greater use of environmentally responsible building practices and other conservation efforts.
But the one major thing I’d most like to change, is our zoning code. We need a zoning code that reflects the current vision and objectives of township residents, namely, striking a better balance between growth/development and preserving the charm, character, and quality of life of our neighborhoods. The Comprehensive Plan developed by the township’s Planning Commission offers a well thought out guide to accomplishing this change. However, in order to bring about change, we’re going to need resources – primarily people and funding – because developing, passing, and implementing a new zoning code is going to require considerable work.
We will also need to build consensus among the many stakeholders impacted by our zoning code in order to effectuate this change. So it is important that we reach out to residents, community leaders, experts, developers, institutions, and more, to solicit ideas, provide information, generate and accept feedback, and build public support. This will require strong leadership. Over the course of my career, I have earned a reputation as a strong communicator, and someone who listens to other points of view and can bring people with competing ideas and interests together. With these skills, I believe I can help achieve the consensus needed to implement a new zoning code in Lower Merion.
Tiffany O’Neill: The Board of Commissioners should require that Township management propose and support an operating budget in which total expenses do not exceed the total revenue. The 2015 budget is not balanced and that is not acceptable. If elected, I will encourage my fellow Commissioners to adopt this common sense budgetary mechanism, which is used by township residents routinely at home and in their businesses. We should also expect that of our municipal leaders.
2. Does Lower Merion Township have any responsibility to maintain, protect or create affordable housing? What do you propose should be done to foster housing diversity in Ardmore and other parts of the township?
Bill Madway: I believe it is a worthwhile public policy goal to make sure there are sufficient affordable housing options in Lower Merion. However, no one community within the township should be singled out as a location for affordable housing. There has always been and should continue to be affordable housing options throughout the township.
Why is this so important? Because the benefits of living in Lower Merion – great schools, charming neighborhoods, and wonderful parks and playgrounds, to name a few – should be accessible to all. That’s the way it’s always been in Lower Merion, and it’s one of the qualities that makes our community exceptional.
Another reason I support affordable housing is what I refer to as – apologies to The Lion King and others – the “housing circle of life.” Take my wife and children as an example. When we were newlyweds, we lived in the Oak Hill Apartments in Penn Valley, an affordable rental option. When we both got jobs in the city, we bought a small condo in town. Once we had our first child, we wanted to move back to Lower Merion. So we looked for an affordable starter home. As the homes in Merion Park, a traditional Lower Merion community for young families, had increased significantly in price, we found a lovely split-level home with lots of other young families in the western edge of the township.
As our family grew to include a second child and several dogs, we needed a bigger house, with a bigger backyard. Once again, Lower Merion had the answer, and we bought a home in Bryn Mawr, where we currently live. I could see my wife and I moving to a condo in Lower Merion as we get up in years, although we could just as easily remain in our current home. The important thing is, there are lots of great options that enable older parents and grandparents to remain in the township and stay closer to their children and grandchildren.
It’s an amazing aspect of Lower Merion that so many younger people return here to raise their families. But Lower Merion must also continue to be a welcoming community to those who did not grow up here. And a mix of housing choices, including affordable housing, is vital to meeting the needs of both of these groups over the course of their “housing life cycle.”
So what should our government and community do to foster housing diversity in the township? For decades, the free market has largely met this need. However, township management, working in conjunction with the Board of Commissioners, our citizen-run boards and commissions, and civic and business groups, must analyze current housing patterns and costs to make sure we are continuing to meet this goal. If not, these same stakeholders can work together to develop a strategy to increase the amount of affordable housing in the township, without harming neighborhood life or property values, increasing congestion, dramatically growing the township’s population, or overburdening the delivery of township services.
We can also learn from the experience of other communities that have faced and met this challenge. And when the building of new housing (or other development projects) threatens to displace residents of an area in Lower Merion, steps must be taken, paid for largely by the developer, to make sure our fellow citizens are able to remain in our township in similar housing.
Tiffany O’Neill: Currently, the Township does support affordable housing through an annual grant program with the Community Block Grant Development (CBGD) funds provided to the Township by HUD. While I do not believe that any Township has an obligation to create affordable housing, I would encourage Lower Merion to continue to foster an environment in which quality housing can be provided, maintained, and protected for all income levels. Already there are incentives in our zoning code for private development of affordable housing.
However, I do believe that multi-housing units should not be so encouraged that green space is diminished. I intend to engage in positive dialogue among all stakeholders who are involved in zoning, land use, and building issues as we work to define Lower Merion's future as identified in our Comprehensive Plan.
3. What are your thoughts about the use of state taxpayer monies for private development?
Bill Madway: Using government funds – which, of course, are really taxpayers’ funds – to encourage various actions in the private sector has long been a practice at municipal, state, and federal levels. Early in my career, I was the director of the Wharton Small Business Development Center. We received federal and state funds to help start-up companies and established small businesses write business plans and raise money, in order to generate jobs. The U.S. Small Business Administration, which funded some of our activities, provided loan guarantees to commercial banks to encourage them to make loans to small businesses, which traditionally had been viewed as to risky borrowers. I was also involved in the Ben Franklin Technology Program, a state-funded initiative, that among things, provided seed capital to early state technology firms. And it also bears noting that Lower Merion provides incentives to help businesses that are located here and encourage other firms to join them (see www.lowermerion.org/index.aspx?page=6).
The point is, government funds are often used to promote business growth, create jobs, and encourage businesses to take risks they might not ordinarily take. All worthwhile public policy objectives. With this in mind, I support, as a general rule, providing taxpayer funds to businesses, including real estate developers, if it advances legitimate public policy goals.
But that said, such funds should be provided in a transparent manner, free of politics and undue influence. Decisions should be based on an application process and specific, objective criteria. In addition, when the government provides such funds, it should receive a return on this investment. For example, loans should be repaid, with interest. Or in the case of the Ben Franklin program I mentioned above, the emerging firms that receive state funding have to repay the funds out of profits, until, in some cases, the government receives as much as 4 times its initial investment.
To sum up, the private sector can, with government assistance done properly, be a force for economic and social good, advancing the interests of the public.
Tiffany O’Neill: Since they own their property and alone reap the benefit of revenues derived from their development, private developers should use their resources for development in our Township. If state funds are to be used or matched, I would like to see it limited to initial funding and that there be required community or public benefit to the projects.
4. Many Township residents are experiencing forced densification of their neighborhoods. What are your thoughts about increased density in the Township? Do you see the need for greater density in certain neighborhoods? Please explain fully.
Bill Madway: First, let me say, I don’t see a need or legitimate public policy reason for our township government to encourage, support, or seek to bring about an increase in population density anywhere in Lower Merion. Increasing the amount of affordable housing in Lower Merion or helping to make our business districts more appealing to consumers should not be done at the expense of nearby residents and their quality of life.
Nor do these worthwhile goals have to be accomplished in such a way as to cause these outcomes. Population density already varies considerably across the township. For example, in our business districts, we often see apartments above stores, which creates higher population density levels. Moreover, locations along major roads, such as Lancaster Avenue and City Avenue, and near train stations, are commonly used for multi-family, higher density housing. There are vacant locations in the township with similar profiles, which would make good locations for affordable housing. For example, the vacant Food Source location in Bryn Mawr.
The Comprehensive Plan contains a thorough analysis of population density patterns in the township. We must use this data as a benchmark, and carefully assess the impact of every proposed residential, commercial, or institutional development project on population density and other quality of life metrics, to make sure the neighborhoods where these projects are to be located will not be harmed.
But having said that, it should not be taken as a given that every new housing project, whether single-family or multi-family, and every new mixed-use development, will increase population density in the affected area or bring about other deleterious effects on the neighborhood. Developers and property owners are entitled to a fair and objective review of their plans, and the public, directly and through their elected representatives, is entitled to have a strong role in the review process.
Tiffany O’Neill: I do not see a need for increased building density in any part of our Township, especially when the last 2010 Census actually showed a decrease in our population.
That said, Lower Merion Township's Board of Commissioners cannot stop growth and development, and thus cannot vote against a proposed development that is in compliance with existing zoning regulations in our neighborhoods. Policies must balance the interests of the community as well as the rights of developers and other commercial establishments. Responsible development, following existing zoning laws and adherence to a comprehensive plan, should not result in significant increases in building density.
Increased density does illustrate the importance of revising our zoning laws. The BOC should review and update Lower Merion’s zoning code after we have adopted the new Township Comprehensive Plan.
I will work with other Commissioners and staff to appropriately balance the preservation of quality of life issues with property rights issues. I will continue to support responsible growth and development while staying true to Lower Merion's heritage. Living in the 11th Ward on historic grounds, I support and would incentivize historic preservation of open lands and structures.