Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

At City Ave. workshop, amendments prompt conversation, not solutions

The Neighborhood Club of Bala Cynwyd, Lower Merion commissioners and township staff aren't yet seeing eye-to-eye on how to create the best City Avenue District for everyone involved.

At City Ave. workshop, amendments prompt conversation, not solutions

David Haas of the Neighborhood Club of Bala Cynwyd and Ward 13 Commissioner Brian McGuire came to one conclusion Monday night almost everyone could agree on: Working on amendments to the City Avenue District ordinance is, “not a science.”

Despite having passed the ordinance in December, it’s still very much a work in progress. The workshop held at the township building last night was scheduled largely to discuss the amendments proposed by the Neighborhood Club.

The Neighborhood Club never supported the ordinance in present form, but when it passed, commissioners and the township offered some assurance that the flaws the club saw in the ordinance would be addressed before it goes into effect April 30.

But discussion between commissioners, the Neighborhood Club and the business community over the amendments spurred enough conversation for future workshops to come and concern over how far the ordinance can push developers.

“If you have all these mandates, people are going to say, this is too expensive, and I’m not going to do it,” said Terry Foley, who is the City Avenue Special Services District president and CEO.

The workshop didn’t produce a remedy as to how to appease residents who live near what in 20 years could be a vibrant district packed with entertainment, restaurants, office buildings and throughways to Philadelphia using SEPTA and bicycle trails.

Contributing to the Neighborhood Club’s resistance toward the ordinance is the definition of the indoor family entertainment center and its proximity to residential buildings, insufficient funds for future traffic issues and a larger buffer along St. Asaphs and Righters Ferry roads and Belmont Avenue.

Here, Neighbors outlines the amendments put forth by the Neighborhood Club, but one thing’s clear: It’s back to the drawing table for the club, who will reconvene in a meeting Feb. 14, and township staff to figure out how to best incorporate the amendments.

Alcohol and Residential Proximity

Wanting to further separate lots with residential uses from noise derived from various types of entertainment, an amendment proposed by the Neighborhood Club revisits the language of an indoor family entertainment center. It asks that the center be “primarily for children under 15 years of age, accompanied by adults,” and that no alcoholic beverages be served.

“If we really want to be a day and night kind of facility, this seems very restrictive,” Ward Five Commissioner Cheryl Gelber said. “If the fear is older teenagers hanging out and not drinking, that makes sense. But I think the fear has pushed us a little too far.”

Director of Building and Planning Bob Duncan noted that while adding the language is possible, it does limit what types of businesses would be able to be within an 800-foot distance from residential areas.

“With the language, you could have a Chuck E. Cheese’s,” Duncan said. “Without the language allows something like a Dave and Buster’s.”

Traffic

An additional amendment by the Neighborhood Club proposes off-site traffic improvements be the second prerequisite for developers to use any incentive to increase their floor area ratio. A developer’s desire to increase the .6 FAR allowed by right would come if they want to build specific types of sites, which is why the ordinance utilizes incentives. If a developer wants to increase the FAR, they will have to choose an option listed by the township for the public good. (The options range from adding structured parking to bettering a public, multi-purpose trail.)

Presently, the developer must add public gathering space in order to choose an option to increase its FAR.

Under the current code, anyone looking to develop must perform an initial traffic study, but the Neighborhood Club said there’s no assurance the future impact of traffic on Bala Cynwyd and its surrounding areas will be funded.

The amendment proposed would make it so developers would have to contribute funds to a traffic fund or put money into traffic improvements on top of adding public gathering space before taking advantage of any of the incentives.

On the other side of City Avenue, the City of Philadelphia is already working on timing and signal changes that may need to be made in preparation for the rising district.

Buffers

In what seemed to be the simplest amendment, the Neighborhood Club recommends prohibiting structures within the first 100 feet of the curb line for buildings on Belmont Avenue between St. Asaphs and Righters Ferry roads and along Righters Ferry Road where properties are located within 500 feet of Belmont Avenue.

About this blog
Josh Fernandez is a 2011 graduate of Temple University where he studied journalism and gender studies. He was a writer and editor for The Temple News, and has interned at Philadelphia City Paper and the Philadelphia Daily News. Josh lived in Aston, Pa. in Delaware County before moving to University City in Philadelphia.

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