Radnor struggles to find use for Wyeth property

Posted: February 05, 2014

RADNOR About a decade has elapsed since the last Wyeth workers walked out of the complex in Radnor Township that had served as their company's global headquarters since the 1950s.

More than history, their departure for a new headquarters in Collegeville created something nearly as valuable: a sprawling piece of commercial property in one of the region's most desirable but largely developed zip codes.

The 26-acre parcel,near the intersection of I-476 and Route 30, represents one of Radnor's largest development opportunities in years. But plans to revitalize the mostly vacant site have stirred as much controversy.

Last week, dozens of people filled the municipal building for a meeting on the plan that stretched past midnight.

It ended without a final vote on the project, but after an airing of complaints and an apology from the township administrator, who had been accused of dispatching police to "intimidate" an opponent of the plan.

To some residents, the debate is part of larger concerns over the future of Radnor, a Delaware County community of about 31,000 residents.

"This is not some situation where I don't want my neighbor putting in a pool. Many of us are afraid that this will change the character of the town forever," said Albert Murphy, a former Planning Commission member, echoing a common sentiment.

The property owner, BioMed Realty Trust, wants to build a 350-unit apartment building, a hotel, office space, and retail shops on the King of Prussia Road site, a tract across from Radnor High School and a stone's throw from heavily traveled roads that already tend to clog at rush hour.

Representatives of Brandywine Realty Trust, which owns much of the commercial properties in Radnor, say the traffic brought by BioMed's proposal could drive away their tenants.

The tensions peaked when it was revealed that Brandywine's president and CEO, Gerald Sweeney, had sent the township commissioners a letter claiming that township police officers had been dispatched to the offices of the company's lawyer, Marc Kaplin, in a bid to silence the company. Sweeney contended Radnor officials also accused Brandywine of trying to intimidate township staffers.

At last week's meeting, Township Administrator Robert Zienkowski apologized for his role in the dustup, saying Brandywine had been a good neighbor and conceding that he had been "passionate" at times about local matters.

"This was an overreaction by the township," added Radnor's solicitor, John Rice. "It could have been handled differently and should have been handled differently."

Some Radnor officials say BioMed's latest proposal is better than its first, which consisted solely of office space, and would have added hundreds of cars in the area during peak commuting times.

Commissioner William A. Spingler said that he and others had been working to make the project as beneficial to the township as possible.

They also will consider a change that could shrink the overall project size, and have asked the developer to limit most of the apartments to one-bedroom units targeted to young professionals and empty nesters, and provide parking spots for car-share services to motivate commuters to take the train.

Still, the plan's fate seems assured. The land in question is zoned for commercial use. And the commissioners approved changes to the zoning ordinance that will allow for some version of the project.

"People see this plan that we're considering, and what gets lost to everyone is that the owners have the right to develop this land," said Elaine Schaefer, president of the Board of Commissioners. "We have to be very cognizant of that, and realize that we cannot reject things without just cause."

In a statement, Rick Howe of BioMed said he believes the project would stimulate the local economy by bringing high-paying jobs to Radnor.

"We remain committed to working with the Radnor community and political leaders to answer any questions about this project," Howe said.


asteele@phillynews.com610-313-8113

@AESteele

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