the highs and lows of community involvement

butterfly

I used to be a community activist. Really. It’s not so grand sounding, I think people just get to a point in their lives when they see change needs to occur and they seem to either choose activism or politics.  While I am fascinated by politics, I would never want to be an elected official, so I chose activism.

It all started innocently enough.

Prior to 9/11 I did mostly traditional volunteer work.  But there comes a time in your life when you can’t sit at the dinner table and murmur “that’s too bad.”

I come by my love of old houses and community by way of genetics. My late father was involved in every community we lived in starting with the early days of the Society Hill section of Philadelphia.

My personal entré into all of this started with my old neighborhood when the first of many developers sought to create infill development where I then lived. This developer was renovating an old factory/warehouse building which no one objected to.  But the ingress/egress onto our street where it was literally 12 feet wide we did object to.

Then, on the heels of that at the time my alma mater The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr wanted to tear down historic Beechwood House in Bryn Mawr  for a parking lot. I became part of a group headed by a fellow alumnae named Heather Hillman which raised the funds necessary to completely restore the house and give it a practical adaptive reuse in today’s world. The 9100 square foot home was an architectural gem designed by prominent late 19th century architect Addison Hutton. We did so well, the architects even won awards on the renovation. (A synopsis of what occurred can be found here.)

Then came the fateful night when I went to my friends’ restaurant in Ardmore and found the wife in tears.  “They want to take our building” she said.

That was my introduction to eminent domain and how I came to be part of a 501(c)(4) civic action organization called the Save Ardmore Coalition. The group was comprised of many people from different walks of life as well as different political parties. We came together because we felt positive change was needed. Instead local politicians (of course) labeled us as being obstructionist.

Eminent Domain in Ardmore, Lower Merion Township was a long and horrible process.  We went to Washington DC and stood beside people from all over the country including Long Branch, NJ, Camden NJ (Cramer Hill), Philadelphia and got to know  a lady from New London CT named Susette Kelo who became the symbol of the anti-eminent domain movement all across this country. (See Kelo vs. City of New London).

In Ardmore we were lucky and we were able to defeat eminent domain for private gain and at the time unseat half of the board of commissioners in Lower Merion (there are the ridiculous number of 14) . I was part of a group of wonderful people who learned that once in a while ordinary people could be right and it was worth fighting for what you believed in.

But all of this came at a personal cost.  We were labeled and tarred and feathered by developers and politicians and their cheerleaders and even paid publicists in Lower Merion Township. I was personally  subject to craziness like a letter to the editor by two then business owners like it was all my fault and I was wrong to have an opinion.  It was a crazy and angry time which lasted years and is still in fact going on. And people were and are nasty.

And nasty for what? Caring about where we lived? It was crazy, and I watch it still happen today and still think it is crazy. As residents I still believe that we need to be a much larger part of how our local governments decide things.

Essentially, I think a lot of communities need to taken back by residents before we are over-taxed, over-governed, and developed away. We  need better historic preservation on local and state levels. It has to mean something or people won’t do it.  We need the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code updated as well.

We need many things.  But people need to be involved more where they live.  It doesn’t matter if you are the loudest voice or the most quiet voice, just be a voice.

What started me on this post today? One word: Ardmore.

Once again Ardmore is embroiled in controversy over development. Carl Dranoff’s hideous behemoth of a project to be precise. Ardmore needed a train station and what it has suffered through now for way too many years is the emperor’s new clothes of ill advised development projects and plans. And developer driven zoning overlays.  And lots and lots of question over the use of public funds. In a nutshell, Lower Merion Township continues to be a shining example of what not to do (and the need for term limits in local government.)

So the new litigation was filed after the developer settled with business owners over other issues with “One Ardmore Place”. This litigation centers around the use of state funds known as RACP funds ( Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program ).

The new litigation has been filed by the successor citizens involved with the Save Ardmore Coalition.

August 17, 2015 Civic group files suit over Ardmore redevelopment: Save Ardmore Coalition claims project is missappropriation of public funds

By Sharon Lurye
PhillyVoice Staff

A civic group has filed a lawsuit against the governor of Pennsylvania, the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority and Lower Merion Township over a redevelopment project in Ardmore, saying that it is a “misappropriation of millions of dollars of public funds” for private use.

The Save Ardmore Coalition announced last week that it was filing suit in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. The issue at hand: $10.5 million in state grant funds set aside for One Ardmore Place, a proposed mixed-use development with apartments, retail and public parking.

Currently, the site is a parking lot. The civic group argues that the grant funds were supposed to be used for the Ardmore Train Station.

“We testified many times before the Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners and we were mocked. We brought petitions signed by residents only to see them disregarded,” said SAC President Philip Browndeis

I am no longer part of Save Ardmore Coaltion or in the executive branch of the group.  I resigned in the spring of 2011 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And then when that was all over with I moved. To Chester County.

So to say I had no idea this was going to happen next is an understatement.  When this news broke my phone and email started going crazy. “Why is this happening?” “What is going on?” “Why are you doing this?”

ME????

News flash: Alice doesn’t live in Ardmore any more. There is a new crew of people with some original folks doing this.  Contact Save Ardmore Coalition President Philip Browndeis at 267.250.2121 or email him at comments@saveardmorecoalition.org if you have questions.)

Of course, human nature being what it is, within days of the litigation being filed, a few anonymous cowards also and predictably rolled up on the Main Line Media News website to  drag me into this. The paper has since removed the comments and will continue to do so because I have nothing to do with this. I am sitting on the sidelines watching like everyone else and darn grateful not to be ensnared by this nonsense as I realized it is the same old rhetoric and whatnot rearing up again.

My personal opinion is I understand why new Save Ardmore Coalition has done this, but what I don’t understand is the timing of it. Why wasn’t this done a few years ago? And of course there is the other thing: residents can do whatever they think necessary to preserve their community but will they ever truly achieve their goals if they do not change the faces of who govern them? As in when are they going to vote the bums out?

I was in Ardmore a few weeks ago for a funeral viewing. I had not been in easily over a year.  The town looks run down and shabby and the public trash cans in front of the township were overflowing with trash.  It all looked welldepressed. And that is the effect of all the grand plans of developers, politics, and local government: inertia.

one ardmore placeSomething needs to happen in Ardmore.  I still don’t think it is “One Ardmore Place” because it is way out of touch with the reality of a small main street oriented town. It lacks human scale and design and if it gets built  it’s 8 stories in small building main street downtown Ardmore will make Eastside Flats in Malvern Borough look good.

People like to say I am anti-development. I am actually anti bad plans.  And every plan no matter where it is located looks the same these days. Homogenous and out of place and scale. The plans are presented where they look like they are situated in the Elysian Fields.

What is going on in Ardmore is going on all over Pennsylvania. Who knows when the madness will stop. Which is why I would rather cook, garden, treasure hunt and photograph butterflies. But I still believe people should be more active where they live.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

another fairy tale for malvern? proceed with caution.

Sorry, jaded skeptic checking in.  I just saw an article about Malvern in Main Line Suburban Life  and “train station redevelopment”.

And yes the loyal friend TOD (transit oriented development.) TOD is not a one-sized fits all band-aid  in ALL areas.

OMG already have the t-shirt on what THIS does to an old-fashioned  main street oriented community.

Malvern Borough residents be watchful and not too gullible.  Once upon a time they told this tale in Lower Merion Township for Ardmore, PA.  Flash forward  about ten years and what do they have? Nothing.

No train station (although Jim Gerlach gave them $6 million towards it)

Ardmore DOES have a confounding zoning overlay that cost a pretty penny but really has not gone anywhere called must (Mixed Use Special Transit often nicknamed More Unfair Special Treatment.)

Ardmore has a redevelopment plan of mythic proportions and a developer to build…only years later the developer’s contract keeps getting extended, this all costs loads of taxpayer monies (although there has never been a very specific accounting), and there is nothing to show for it.  Many file this project which grew out of the defeat of eminent domain for private gain as a failure, government waste and boondoggle.

Malvern has already bit off a rather large project on East King (I have written about Malvern development before including HERE). This is not an economy for full steam ahead, it is proceed with caution.  In this economy you do not necessarily make money to spend money. You need to be careful and realistic.  Saying residents of rural areas and exurbs will suddenly forgo their cars and SUVs to take public transit  out here is inconvenient at best is just silly. Are all people going to take the train or walk to the farmers market being discussed for 2013 in Malvern?

So my thoughts (in part having lived through this garbage where I used to live) is not to throw the baby out with the bath water, but to go SLOWLY.  Finish one project at a time.

New Urbanism Utopia for Malvern is a little too much of a fairy tale for me. And Malvern had better figure out if it can handle the density when the East King Street project is complete versus just layering more on.

Let us be real: Malvern in a small community not too far away from what could be considered rural.  People need their vehicles.  I do not see Paoli local stops on roads like Swedesford and 401 and Pottstown Pike or Phoenixville Pike.

You will never see the  communities out here  turn into ones that don’t use their cars and the trade-off near the already congested town center of Malvern Borough for increased density is not worth it in my humble opinion.  You keep adding people, they aren’t going to live out here without a vehicle.  Where will everyone park?  I don’t see that the redevelopment in progress addresses the need for parking sufficiently.

And learn the lesson of insufficient ratables from the East King project.

Residents of Malvern Borough, now is the time to pay attention.  For some reason your community seems to be easy pickings for new development. I am not saying progress is bad, but you need to remember what kind of town you are and that is not Wayne and not West Chester.  Malvern is small, like Narberth.  Look to a community like Narberth.  Or even Ambler.  Embrace the small town of it all. Don’t let people talk you into what you never successfully will be.

Here is the article:

Train station redevelopment project pitched to Malvern residents

Published: Monday, October 01, 2012

BY Brent Glasgow
bglasgow@journalregister.com

MALVERN – Residents had a chance to provide input on the borough’s future on Tuesday, at an informational workshop on a transit-oriented development plan that could eventually alter the landscape of the community.

Sponsored by Malvern Borough with support from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the workshop introduced the concept of redeveloping the area within a half-mile radius of the Malvern train station.

Presenter Jeff Riegner, from the design firm of Whitman, Requardt and Associates, defined transit-oriented development as “compact, mixed-use, walk-friendly development around a train station.”

The project could include retail, residential and office development.

Allowing residents to leave their cars at home is a priority in TOD plans. Riegner said doing so leads to fewer roadway expansion projects, while giving commuters more options and raising air quality and home values.

“It really is a small-town idea and fits really well in a community like Malvern,” Riegner said.

There is no TOD plan currently in place for Malvern.