Two development plans rattling Radnor residents

Posted: March 31, 2014

RADNOR In the heart of the Main Line, a Blue Route nexus and home to universities and colleges, Radnor Township is one of the region's most desirable locations.

Two development proposals - involving Villanova University and the former Wyeth property - have many township residents worrying whether Radnor could be paying a price for its attributes, whether the township was approaching a breaking point.

In recent months, they have been packing township meetings to express their anxieties.

"We all moved here to have a suburban lifestyle," said Tish Long, a resident who started the group Friends to Preserve Radnor. Being so close to each other, she said, the proposed projects are "going to create a very urban landscape that many of us don't want."

BioMed Realty hopes to build 320 apartments, a hotel, retail space, and offices across from Radnor High School, on the former Wyeth property, near the intersection of Lancaster Avenue, which is Route 30, and the Blue Route, I-476. Not far to the east on Lancaster Avenue, Villanova University has proposed building dormitories, a performing-arts center, a parking garage, and a campus bookstore on an existing parking lot.

Traffic in that area is "kind of a nightmare right now," said Long. She and her neighbors have spent nearly $25,000 in the last two years to fight Villanova's proposal.

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission has predicted that, in the next two decades, traffic would increase about 6 percent and that already-long red-light wait times would get longer.

And a commission study didn't take into account the Wyeth project.

The study found that nearly 10,000 pedestrians cross two intersections near the campus every day. During peak-commuting hours, some drivers can wait more than two minutes for a light to change.

Villanova's plans include a pedestrian bridge over Lancaster Avenue, and special zoning for BioMed's site would include traffic changes - among them widening King of Prussia Road to four lanes - paid for by the developers.

The Villanova plan would improve wait times, said the planning commission's Keith Hartington, who conceded that the overall impact was hard to assess.

"I can't just look in my crystal ball and say things aren't going to be as bad as you think," Hartington said, "but it depends what improvements are done and to what extent they're done."

Chris Kovolski, assistant to the president at Villanova, suggested that the project might even reduce traffic. The dormitories would house nearly 1,200 students who now live off campus and drive to school.

"Traffic is an important concern in this area," he said. "There's no doubt about that."

The planning commission study did not address what effects the BioMed proposal would have on King of Prussia Road, which has an estimated daily traffic volume of 5,000 vehicles and where traffic is a major concern for some residents.

The property is "probably the best site in all of suburban Philadelphia," said Matt McDevitt, the company's executive vice president.

As a possible alternative to the mixed-use plan, BioMed has proposed developing the site with the existing zone, with office-space only, and with no infrastructure improvements.

"Well, that would be a disaster," said Commissioner William Spingler, who said he hoped the mixed-use plan would proceed.

But Commissioner Richard Booker said the plans were too large for the site and would "flood the roads" with traffic. "It would be too hard on the infrastructure that we have there."

McDevitt pointed out that BioMed's mixed-use plan would generate traffic at different times, rather than exclusively at peak-commuting periods.

In addition to adding two lanes to King of Prussia Road, BioMed has offered to add turning lanes.

"So the trick," said Elaine Schaefer, president of the board of commissioners, "is to incentivize them to do a mixed-use and to take on the traffic responsibilities by giving them a little bit more density. But that's the rub: How much density could we withstand and not have a negative impact on traffic?"

That question won't be answered quickly. The commissioners will next discuss the BioMed project April 14, and they are unlikely to vote on the plan at that meeting, Schaefer said.

Some residents of Radnor, the fourth-largest municipality in Delaware County, with a population of 31,500, remain skeptical of traffic studies and promises from developers. At meetings, they have urged both Villanova and BioMed to scale down their projects.

The assertion that BioMed could mitigate traffic "doesn't pass a sniff test," said resident Bob Pietrobono, adding that he waits in long traffic delays every day on King of Prussia Road. In the last several weeks, Pietrobono and his neighbors began talking to members of the Friends to Preserve Radnor group, and they have formed an alliance called One Radnor.

The group's plan is for the township to hire an outside planner - rather than the township's planning board - to review both development proposals, as well as the township's comprehensive plan.

Commissioners will consider that request at a meeting Monday, when they are scheduled to discuss the Villanova proposal. Schaefer and other commissioners said they were in no rush to resolve any of the development issues.

"You're never going to have change that pleases everyone," she said, "so you let it develop until you have a product or an ordinance or a policy that achieves your goal as well as you possibly can, and you move forward."


BY THE NUMBERS

320

apartments to be built in the BioMed project

at Route 30 and I-476.

1,200

students, who now live off campus and drive

to school, would be housed at Villanova's new dormitories.

$25,000

has been spent by neighbors over the last two years to fight Villanova's proposal.

10,000

pedestrians cross two intersections near the Villanova campus every day.

120

seconds of wait time for vehicles at some intersections along Route 30 near the Villanova campus

during peak hours.

SOURCES: Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission; Villanova University; BioMed Realty Trust


lmccrystal@phillynews.com

610-313-8116 @Lmccrystal

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