``Lower Merion recognized that [increased use] has a very real and adverse impact on the community,'' High said. ``If you have an additional 100 people coming and going, that creates additional parking issues, additional traffic issues, potential additional bus issues, on what may be a quiet residential street.''
The ordinance was approved one day before the Zoning Hearing Board was scheduled to begin hearing the Barnes Foundation's application seeking to increase the number of its visitors from 500 a week to 1,500 a week.
The ordinance sets in writing strict criteria for creating, expanding or increasing the use of institutions located in residential areas. Before they are granted exceptions, institutions must prove that their planned changes will not disturb the character of the surrounding neighborhood.
``We have always said that if they are going to expand, they need to get a special exception,'' High said. ``Now, we are telling them what evidence they have to present.''
Traffic impact studies; the number of new participants; their ages; time of arrival and departure; where they will park their cars; and where they will be dropped off are some of the items the township's Zoning Hearing Board will now require before granting permission to increase use.
High denied that the ordinance was written in response to traffic problems that Barnes neighbors claim the institution has brought to their quiet, leafy-laned Merion neighborhood. He said the Barnes ``might be an illustrative example of how increased intensity of use can impact a community.''
Public visitation to the Barnes, on Latches Lane, began to increase dramatically in 1996 when it reopened after its extensive collection of French Impressionist art returned from a well-publicized and well-attended world tour.
The lines of visitors, the car traffic, and the caravans of tour buses drove neighbors to protest the increased use of the foundation as a violation of its zoning as an educational institution. Litigation is pending on the issue while an injunction limits attendance to 2 1/2 days and 500 people a week.
High added that a similar situation ``can happen to any institution.''
The new ordinance bars new institutions from minor roads in residential areas unless the property is 10 acres or more of undeveloped land or is 5 acres or more and listed on the township historic list. The latter section was added as a compromise for residents worried that aging historic estates and homes would be demolished if they could not be converted to institutional use, which is often their only viable option other than the bulldozer.
Previously, requests for new residential area institutions, as well as expanded or increased use, were always presented to the zoning board, but until yesterday no guidelines were on the books.
``It was done on a case-by-case basis,'' High said. ``We've just put it in writing to make it fair to everyone.''