Neighbors Aren't Cheering Art Collection's Homecoming It Has Won International Acclaim. Now It's Returning To The Renovated Barnes Museum. Residents Fear Their Quiet Lives Are Over.

Posted: October 23, 1995

LOWER MERION — For months, the Barnes Foundation art collection has toured cities around the world, garnering praise from awe-struck connoisseurs and international critics.

But the return of the collection to its home, and the attention it has received, are not playing well to locals who like the quiet life.

The folks who live in the big houses that line North Latches Lane say they are concerned about the imminent reopening of the foundation's museum, with its extensive collection of French impressionist works. They gathered Thursday night in a parlor near the foundation to talk about their concerns.

Now that the museum's $12 million, two-year renovation is complete, they worry that the Nov. 12 reopening will change forever their calm, tree-lined community. They fear losing its character. And at least some of them say they feel unusually powerless.

The foundation's president, Richard H. Glanton, could not be reached for comment.

On their street, where a canopy of maples and chestnuts hides the sky, residents often take long strolls and scenic bike rides. Now they wonder whether more traffic and parked cars will end those days. Already, they say, they have lived with the tour buses, strangers picnicking on their lawns, with tourists parking in their driveways and taking pictures of their houses and children. They envision such annoyances multiplying.

Foundation officials, they say, are not making plans to "accommodate the massive number of strangers" expected to be coming - or at least haven't told the residents. Neighbors say they are particularly worried that the foundation will be open to the public more days a week. In September, Montgomery County Court ruled that the foundation can open its doors 3 1/2 days a week - an additional day. But the Barnes trustees had pushed to have the foundation open six days a week.

"We are very concerned about where people are going to park and also where they are going to be driving," neighbor Bruce Schainker said during the informal meeting.

The meeting was held after neighbors learned last week about a proposed parking lot on the Barnes property. They received a notice from the township that the foundation was seeking approval for a 75-car lot on the southeast corner.

Neighbor Steven Asher said that news dropped like a bomb. He called the idea offensive "not only to the people who live nearby but to all people who value nature."

"Now they are (planning on) paving it over like the King of Prussia mall," he said. "The idea of seeing bulldozers come and knock down trees is just a tragedy."

A public hearing about the parking lot will be held in the Lower Merion township building at 7:15 p.m. Nov. 9.

Township Commissioner Jim Ettelson, whose constituency includes Merion Station, where the foundation is located - said he hopes the township, the residents, and the foundation can resolve the problems.

"Attempts are being made to bring the neighbors and representatives of the Barnes together to discuss this," he said.

After the meeting Thursday, Nancy Herman peered over the steel fence of the foundation property and said she feared the parking lot would destroy the ''horticultural gem" - the arboretum - that surrounds the museum.

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