Radnor Township residents prepare to oppose Villanova dormitory plan

Posted: February 21, 2013

The plans are by no means final, but Radnor Township residents are gearing up to fight Villanova University's proposed 1,200-student dormitory on the site of a university parking lot.

The complex would include a five-story parking garage, a performing arts center, and restaurants and bookstores catering to students.

Radnor officials say that the plan, in the works for a year, is in its infancy, that the university has yet to present details to the township, and that it is refining a request for zoning amendments to the site.

But residents are mobilizing against it, touching on tensions between an expanding university and a wealthy community that does not view itself as a college town.

The plan aims to bring back an estimated 1,200 students who live off-campus and reduce the demand for off-campus housing, said Chris Kovolski, an assistant to Villanova's president, the Rev. Peter Donohue.

But residents say that they are concerned about the zoning changes required to implement the project, which they call excessive. They also worry about increased traffic around Lancaster and Ithan Avenues, where the proposed dormitory would be situated.

"You've got an issue of the size of the buildings, the proximity to the streets. It's too big, it's too dense. What happens with traffic?" said Kevin Geary, one of the residents concerned about the plan.

The zoning amendments the university is proposing would increase maximum building heights and reduce setback requirements on the lot, although university officials have agreed to reduce the height to ease residents' concerns, Kovolski said.

Kovolski said the complex would draw students out of neighborhoods and away from residents bothered by their noise and partying. Some students say their relationship with permanent residents is not exactly warm.

"I received a note on my car the second day of school in August saying, 'Welcome back, Villanova brat. We just love having you take the parking spots of the permanent residents.' This happened with me living there only two days," said James Bradley, 22, a computer science major.

But residents opposed to the plan said they had been on the receiving end of hostility. They said they were forced to shut down a Facebook page after supporters posted disparaging comments.

Geary said he and his neighbors had nothing against students - "They've been our babysitters, they're strong community members," he said. Residents are more concerned with density issues that they say the university has not addressed, he said.

"You're talking about a pretty big, sizable increase in the student population," Geary said. "This isn't something that's going to have a one-, two- or three-year effect; you're talking a 20- to 30-year plan. Are we going to wake up in 50 years, and is Radnor going to be 50 percent students?"

Kovolski said that would not be the case. The university is not planning to increase enrollment, he said, just aiming to bring more students back to campus.

"We underwent similar projects on our south and west campuses in the past 30 years which did not increase enrollment," he said. Villanova's total enrollment is about 10,000.

Township officials say that Villanova's zoning requests are not unreasonable but that they expect further revisions. If the university's plan is recommended by the township Planning Commission, it can begin a formal zoning amendment process, said Kevin Kochanski, the township's community development director.

"As far as an amendment goes, there's always a balance between what the developer wants and what the community wants. What they want to propose has some merit to it. Will it look like what it is now? That I can't say," he said.

Radnor residents say they're prepared to fight the plan before it's formalized.

"Villanova is asking for a blank check with no discernible plan," Geary said. "At what point is enough enough in Radnor?"

Contact Aubrey Whelan at 610-313-8112, at awhelan@philly.com or on Twitter at @aubreyjwhelan.

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