Villanova University has cleared a major hurdle in its expansion plans, which include building dormitories on an existing parking lot along Lancaster Avenue.
The Radnor Township Board of Commissioners voted late Monday night to approve zoning changes for the estimated $300 million project, a step that took two years and drew strong opposition from some residents.
Villanova wants to build new dormitories, a performing arts center, parking garage, and campus bookstore. A vocal group of residents has spent thousands of dollars and has packed meetings to fight the plans, which some said would increase traffic and noise while bringing an unwanted urban feel to their Main Line community in Delaware County.
After an initial plan was rejected last year, the university returned with the smaller proposal that gained approval Monday.
Villanova officials said the project would decrease traffic because it would include a pedestrian bridge over busy Lancaster Avenue, where thousands of students now use crosswalks every day. The new dormitories would house nearly 1,200 students who now live off campus and drive to school.
After hearing from residents opposed to the plan Monday night, the commissioners voted 4-2 to approve the zoning change.
"I honestly feel people oppose this because they don't like change," Commissioner Jim Higgins said at the meeting.
"And ultimately, I do believe honestly that this will have minimal adverse impact on people that live near it."
The project could still be years away. Villanova must submit final designs to the township before work can begin. The new dormitories could be open by the fall of 2019, said Chris Kovolski, assistant to the president at Villanova.
Also Monday, the commissioners voted against a proposal to hire an outside planner to review Villanova's plans and a proposal for commercial development at the former Wyeth property on King of Prussia Road.
Some residents concerned about the potential impacts of both projects wanted a consultant, rather than just the township's own planning board, to examine plans.