Developer Not the Bad Guy in Lower Merion's First Baptist Saga
I have said little publicly for me about the drama unfolding over First Baptist in Ardmore, but an opinion piece today I find unfair among other things has prompted me to say something as well. I am going to say some things that will undoubtedly piss people off. I am sorry for that.
I will state for the record that I know both the developer and attorney of record for this project. I have never denied it. Both are men who are individuals who have not only contributed a lot to their individuals communities, but who do good solid work.
Yes me of all people, defending a developer. But ironic aside, right is right, and wrong is wrong. Wally Smerconish is not the bad guy in this drama. He is as much of a victim in this as is the community who doesn't want to lose this structure.
I hear a lot of people feel the Zoning Hearing Board could have made allowances for that plan, but chose instead to send a message to the Board of Commissioners at the expense of an applicant and neighborhood? There you not only had a an adaptive reuse that the residents loved, heck even the reporters reporting on it couldn't believe there was *finally* a plan in Ardmore no one argued about as being just simply awful. But now, what is the neighborhood faced with? Easy, it's called demolition. Will that happen in the end? I hope not for the neighborhood's sake.
But while Rome burns, Lower Merion executives fiddle. And it is wrong to portray the developer as the sole and solitary villain in this play.
So with that I am calling out Kate Galer of Ardmore on her blame laden rally the troops blog post in Ardmore Patch.
I will be the first one to admit that I have written blog posts like this myself over the years. But I would like to think I thought my positions through a little better.
Kate was by her own account reacting to what is going on in her neighborhood and what she read on Ardmore Patch the other day. You can't blame her for that.
Here is what Kate says in part:
Posted on July 9, 2012 at 12:15 pm
Tacit agreement? "When people move to Ardmore or choose to stay after being brought up here, they enter into a tacit agreement with their neighbors that we like living in houses like this, with people like this, with a streetscape like this"? Huh? Is Ardmore a commune? A giant condo development? It's a nice thought, but hearts and flowers aside, where is the legal obligation to do so?
I will say at the onset that Kate Galer has a right to her opinion. Just as I have a right to mine. But I would like to know if she is saying this as Kate the Ardmore resident responding? Or Kate the girlfriend of Lower Merion Township Employee Chris Leswing speaking? Or Kate the rumored candidate for commissioner speaking? Just because there is an ordinance or zoning amendment in the works, it does not mean it is a one size fits all.
Has Kate ever sat down with Wally Smerconish? Love them or hate them, are developers supposed to be victims of Lower Merion's bad planning any more than residents?
I have this mostly alone, because truthfully I admire Kate Galer's passion for her community. I think her heart and soul are in the right place at the end of the day. But I can't sit idly by while she asserts things that simply are not true.
Wally Smerconish doesn't want to demolish the church. But money doesn't grow on trees. If he can't do things reasonably in a reasonable time frame, who can blame him for wanting out? Is he supposed to lose money because Lower Merion Township doesn't have it's act together? Not all developers are willing to perform these for king and country feats of valor. And let is get real, who wants this structure which is not part of any historic district? Not many. Except for half a minute another martial arts place, and a commercial use at this location would be disasterous.
Wally Smerconish had an idea that has worked in many other communities from state to state. Adaptive reuse of unusualstructures like churches can be really really cool. Wally Smerconish (in my opinion) got caught up in the system much like residents often do. As a matter of fact people told him he was nuts for wanting to do this project in Lower Merion, let alone wade into the mess known as Ardmore development. Adaptive reuse is a great thing. But getting there in Lower Merion shouldn't be so difficult.
Kate is right to rally the troops to save the building. But not at the expense of Wally Smerconish's reputation or Lance Rogers' either. They did not cause this issue, Lower Merion did.
If Kate has a buyer for the church since she seems hell bent on placing blame and riding Wally out of Lower Merion on a proverbial rail, by all means speak up.
But otherwise, her blog post in my opinion, fans the flame of community divisiveness, and that, dear Kate, will not accomplish anything. And are you fanning the flames for the community in which you live or because the township looks once again foolish? Where are your ideas to get this resolved? Other than putting forth what the township wants or wanted to happen?
Again, passion is a great thing. But let's get real? Lower Merion needs to present corrective zoning that is appealing and can be more uniformly applied. Making affordable housing and historic preservation seem like a punishment to those who wish to invest in the community is not a good call. I say this as a fan and proponent of both affordable housing an historic preservation. And affordable in Lower Merion given the taxes is subjective anyway and what good is affordable housing if people can't afford to live in a community?
Lower Merion has not had a comprehensive plan since 1979. Every once in a while we hear about updates in the works, but the proof is in the pudding: it doesn't exist. Lower Merion is not abiding by what the Municipalities Planning Code of PA says should be: updates every couple of years. Lower Merion is a hodge podge of bad planning, zoning overlays that contradict things, inadequate yet punitive preservation.
There is always a LOT of breast beating on the part of township officials and others when something could be torn down, yet nothing ever substantively significant changes.
If you don't want to lose the church Kate, then don't blame and castigate the one guy who actually had a viable idea of saving it.
And if First Baptist does end up getting torn down, Lower Merion can only blame itself. If they wanted to, the commissioners and township could work with a developer (even this one) to get an adaptive reuse through on First Baptist. But that doesn't mean strong arming a developer who hasn't done anything wrong.
Generally speaking, I am not considered the developer's friend. But we have to be fair here. Or at keast show all sides to the issue.
I have said what I have to say. If this plan falls by the wayside and doesn't come to fruition it will indeed be a shame.
Advocating for a community comes with responsibilities. I feel I am living up to my responsibility by showing the other side to the issue.
Ardmore's largest problem is probably that the Township of Lower Merion will never get the town that households their administration building. This of course, encompasses bad planning. I hope Ardmore residents can step back and look at this and other issues objectively.
If you want to lead Kate, by all means, do so. But do so fairly. The township is not lily white in this, nor is the issue as simplistic as you would like people to believe.
Here is what Patch wrote about before:
Developer Wally Smerconish's previous plans for the site were denied by the Zoning Hearing Board on June 14.
By Amanda Mahnke