On Tuesday, July 14, the Lower Merion Conservancy delivered testimony on the Township’s Draft Comprehensive Plan at a special meeting of the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission will take the Conservancy’s recommendations, and those from the community, to make a formal recommendation to the Board of Commissioners for review this fall.The Conservancy is a community-based, non-profit, member-supported organization that has devoted itself to improving the quality of life of Lower Merion and Narberth for the past 20 years. Together with our constituents, we go about this by advocating for historic preservation, permanently protecting open space through conservation easements, and conserving our watersheds through scientific monitoring and community education.Our comments will address three areas of the Comprehensive Plan — Historic Preservation, Water Resources, and Land Use — that are most central to our mission. The Conservancy believes that preservation is not only about different elements and features of a community’s natural and built environment, it is also about the steps we take to support and protect these shared resources. We applaud the Township’s efforts to make preservation a central emphasis of the Comprehensive Plan, and the importance it has placed on our existing built and natural environment, keeping Lower Merion Township a unique and desirable place to live, work, and raise families. We are encouraged by the way the Plan takes the broad view that preservation encompasses both our built and natural environments, from the scale of the watershed to the village, from significant buildings to the unique elements that we see as we pass through our community. We agree wholeheartedly and enthusiastically with the Plan’s statement that “historic architecture, winding, tree-lined roads and graceful natural features are defining characteristics of the community and are a major reason why real estate in the Township retains its value.” That said, too many historic buildings have been lost, the Conservancy feels that more needs to be done to preserve the structures that make Lower Merion unique.With regard to Historic Preservation, we support and commend the recommendations to strengthen the demolition review and permitting process and to promote the designation of eligible historic districts.In addition to supporting these recommendations, the Conservancy suggests that special consideration to be placed on completing the Historic Resources Inventory, including adding all properties eligible for Class I status within the Township. This is a fundamental first step: until the Inventory is complete, we will not be able to begin saving all that needs to be saved.We also request consideration of two other recommendations. First, part of its preservation planning efforts, the Township must take a hard and clear look at the structure of the Class I and Class II system of designating historic properties, and determine whether or not it is serving the ambitious vision that the Comp Plan sets out.Second, in order to meet the needs of the ambitious preservation agenda set forth in the Comp Plan, the Conservancy strongly encourages the Township to hire a permanent staff person to address preservation planning issues.We are excited by the Township’s efforts to address the number one public health and environmental problem in the Township: stormwater runoff. The implementation of several projects across the Township using best management practices is very encouraging, as is the Township’s creation of a Stormwater Task Force to inform strong stormwater policy.The Conservancy recognizes the real and undeniable impacts of stormwater on the health of our waterways and that Lower Merion’s natural systems, in particular our streams, major watershed tributaries are among the most impaired in the state.The Conservancy agrees with the Comp Plan’s recommendation that the township needs a stormwater management plan and needs to develop funding sources that this plan represents to fund: green stormwater infrastructure on Township properties and public lands, demonstration projects, and upgrades to the Township’s existing stormwater infrastructure. The Conservancy also supports the creation of financial incentives for property owners to install stormwater control measures and BMPs on their properties, such as rain gardens, bio-swales, and rain barrels, to name a few. We also feel that part of the solution to the stormwater problem involves engaging the Borough of Narberth in this conversation.We look forward to moving these things forward and working with the Stormwater Task Force to develop specific recommendations for a stormwater authority or similar entity.
With regard to land use, the Conservancy supports the Township’s ambitious recommendation to comprehensively revise the zoning and land development codes, which complement the established community pattern.
And we support the two priorities that are identified for that endeavor: First, to aim toward a smaller ultimate population for the Township than is projected now. And second, to shift from that assumption that growth will occur through subdivision development to that assumption that growth should be accommodated through “the prevailing built patterns. We agree that the new code should focus on “the adaptive reuse and modernization of existing structures, landscapes and neighborhoods integral to future growth,” by integrating design guidelines and preservation obligations and incentives.”
Recognizing that open space is crucial to maintaining the health of the Township’s natural environment and the role it plays in defining our community’s character, the Conservancy advocates for the permanent protection of more open space, including public parks through conservation easement, transfer of development rights and other forms of protection. We strongly support the Township’s recommendation to use a two-tiered system to preserve lands on properties between three and five acres in size, an enhancement that could yield 145 acres of additional open space.
We support, at the broadest levels, the philosophy and vision of this Comprehensive Plan, and look forward to working with our community and constituents to bring into effect the policies that will be necessary to move this vision forward.”