Ardmore development plan still brewing

Posted: April 11, 2014

ARDMORE The latest chapter in a decadelong effort to boost downtown Ardmore and renovate its train station unfolded Wednesday night in the Lower Merion Township administration building as commissioners reviewed part of a controversial residential and retail project.

During a contentious meeting at which commissioners spoke testily to one another and township staff, Building and Planning Committee members spent about three hours discussing whether to recommend approval of a preliminary land-development plan from Dranoff Properties whose result would be a new building with 121 apartments, ground-level retail space, and parking.

Late into the night, commissioners were still asking questions, to be followed by public comments. About 20 residents attended the meeting.

As the Dranoff development chugs along, uncertain of financing and needing to finish administrative reviews, the train station project recently picked up speed.

"Forever ago" is how Elizabeth S. Rogan, president of the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners, describes talks in 2003 about the projects, which are meant to rev up downtown Ardmore.

The details have changed significantly. Back then, officials envisioned that the development and improved Ardmore transit center would be done next to each other, Rogan said.

Some of the early controversy came from a proposal to use eminent domain to acquire property where nearby businesses were located as part of the construction site.

That plan didn't happen because the site by the tracks ended up being too small for the development and because a souring economy choked off some public funding.

Eventually, the township moved the Dranoff development across Lancaster Avenue to a public parking lot on Cricket Avenue.

Backers of the plan say that new housing and shops, along with 200 new residents, would be a huge boost to the area.

"While there are always opponents to a project of this magnitude, many businesses in Ardmore see this as an opportunity to create a more vibrant community with more pedestrians and stronger businesses," said Bernard Dagenais, president of the Main Line Chamber of Commerce.

Several groups, including the ArdWood Civic Association, disagree.

They have written letters to Gov. Corbett's budget office asking that it not reverse a December decision to cut $12 million out of a pledged $15.5 million from the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. The office cited changes in the project's scope over the years that it said made the project ineligible for that money.

Civic groups had their own concerns.

"The state and taxpayers should not subsidize a private residential and retail development in Ardmore, even with an underground parking garage that would have public spaces," the association's Regina Melchiorre Brown wrote. "Our real estate inventory is healthy, and the community has had little difficulty attracting residential redevelopment without subsidy."

Additionally, Brown wrote, the part of the building that rises to eight stories clashes with the neighboring "two-story residential block . . . and the two or three-story historic retail structures of the historic district on Lancaster Avenue."

Carl E. Dranoff said Tuesday he was optimistic that the lobbying he and area elected officials were doing to reverse Corbett's decision would be successful, though Corbett press secretary Jay Pagni said he knew of no wavering.

Step forward

Across Lancaster Avenue, the train station project has gotten a boost.

A $22.6 million plan to upgrade the transit center, where SEPTA trains and the Amtrak Keystone service both have stops, has been rebooted.

The new life came after state lawmakers in November passed a transportation funding bill that gave SEPTA more money.

SEPTA and township officials agreed in March to let the transit agency take over direct project management from Lower Merion, said Richard G. Burnfield, SEPTA's chief financial officer and treasurer.

"I think there's general consensus and agreement that this is a major step forward in advancing a project we've been talking about for a number of years," Burnfield said.

The project's first phase includes raising the platforms in both directions so they are level with train doors and installing ramps, stairs, and an elevator to make the platforms accessible from ground level, said Robert L. Lund Jr., SEPTA's assistant general manager of engineering, maintenance, and construction.

The existing station will be replaced and canopies added. Pouring the foundation for a desired parking garage also will be part of the early work.

SEPTA officials this month will apply for a federal grant they want to use to finish building the $23.7 million garage.

The goal is to begin construction in 2015.

Dranoff said the timetable for his project is breaking ground by early fall.

"A lot of residents and business people are counting on me, and we intend to stand by the project and build it," Dranoff said. "I'm not someone who is easily discouraged."



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