Radnor panel rejects Villanova expansion

Posted: May 10, 2013

The Radnor Township Planning Commission has rejected Villanova University's request for a zoning change that would allow a major expansion of the Lancaster Avenue campus with new dormitories, a parking garage, a performing arts center, and stores.

The $200 million plan has upset residents, who say it would transform a quiet neighborhood into a noisy extension of the 10,600-student Wildcat campus.

The university was seeking a conditional use to allow denser development than allowed, Planning Commission Chairwoman Julia Hurle said.

The commission was concerned was that the zoning change would not be restricted to the university, she said.

"That might work for Villanova," she said of changes in building setbacks and height, among other things, "but it might have an impact on other parts of the township that we might regret."

The Planning Commission vote Monday was 8-1. The township Board of Commissioners will make the final decision, though it has not scheduled a vote.

Chris Kovolski, assistant to the Villanova president, said the university would wait to see what the commissioners have to say before making its next move.

Since the plan was introduced six months ago, he said, the university has made changes to address issues raised by residents and officials, including adding a pedestrian bridge across Lancaster Avenue and reducing the size of the parking garage from 1,800 vehicles to 1,200.

Together they should reduce "pedestrian stress" at Ithan and Lancaster Avenues, he said.

The bridge would go from Church Walk on campus to SEPTA's Villanova station and would be an "easy, safe, and direct" way for students to get to class, he said.

For dozens of residents who showed up at the planning meeting Monday night, traffic was still the biggest issue with the plan, which includes housing for 1,160 students to be erected on two existing parking lots along Lancaster Avenue, a university bookstore and other retail, and the restaurant, garage, and arts center.

School officials maintain the project would allow 85 percent of Villanova's undergraduates to live on campus all four years.

In addition, the school says on its website, "the project would greatly improve the attractiveness of the visual landscape on Lancaster Avenue, position Villanova University more competitively among its peer institutions, and increase student and parent satisfaction."

Because the project is designed to shift students who currently live in nearby communities back onto campus, traffic overall would be reduced, and neighborhoods would see fewer cars and less congestion, the school contends.

David Onorato, a lawyer hired by a group of neighbors called Friends to Preserve Radnor, said that the university had ignored their worries about traffic and that the expansion would change the fundamental nature of the area.

Donald LaVan, who has lived near Villanova for 45 years, doesn't think students will stay put once they get to their dorms. "They come and go," he said.

"It's being ramrodded through entirely too fast," LaVan said.

He also thinks the school should pay for increased fire, police, and other municipal services.

"I don't buy this argument that they're a nonprofit institution," he said. "They've got a significant amount of commercial space integrated into this."


Contact Kathy Boccella at kboccella@phillynews.com, 610-313-8232 or follow @kathyboccella on Twitter.

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