Main Line Times

Will Lower Merion School District Use Eminent Domain to take Natural Land Trust’s Stoneleigh Estate: Say No!

This story is almost impossible to comprehend but sadly it is true!

Through the wonderful generosity of John and Chara Hass (Rohm and Haas Company, specialty chemical manufacturer) and their children, the family’s Villanova estate Stoneleigh (c. 1877) was donated in 2016 to Natural Lands Trust. The wonderful estate turned garden is set to open its gates to the public starting Sunday, May 13.

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                                                            Photo by Richard Ilgenfritz, Digital First Media

Now days before the gates are open to the public, the Lower Merion School District is looking at the estate and gardens as a possible site for a new middle school – property to be taken by eminent domain. Initially, LMSD was looking at purchasing 6 acres (by Villanova Law School) for the middle school but  the entire 42 acre Stoneleigh estate is in jeopardy of condemnation!

Natural Land Trust is not interested in selling any of the  Stoneleigh property to the LMSD. According to the Main Line Times, the Trust’s attorney has stated, “the Natural Lands will not entertain the board’s offer to purchase a portion of Stoneleigh Garden and that the Natural Lands will oppose any effort by the board to take any portion of Stoneleigh by eminent domain,”

I’m struggling with the takeover of private property — because Lower Merion School District needs more sports fields — it is just plain wrong! With great generosity, the Haas family donated the land for public use, how can Lower Merion School District do this? Doesn’t the Natural Land Trust have rights? Not my idea of how elected officials should “lead by example”!

Go to Stoneleigh’s website to learn more about the property.  And please consider signing the petition to Save Stoneleigh from Condemnation!  Lower Merion School District needs to be stopped!

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In a recent comment on Community Matters, Ray Clarke (local resident and member of Open Land Conservancy Board of Directors) points out that the attorney writing to the Natural Land Trust on behalf of Lower Merion School District is none other than Ken Roos of Wisler Pearlstine, LLP — this is the same Ken Roos representing T/E School District.  As Ray noted, Roos billed T/E $60K in April alone!

I certainly hope that the potential eminent domain condemnation by Lower Merion School District of a Natural Lands Trust historic estate doesn’t give our T/E school board any ideas. The many new land development projects in our school district has meant more families moving into the area. As a result, there has been discussion over the years about whether a new elementary school is needed to meet the possible student enrollment increase. The condemnation of Open Land Conservancy property in T/E School District is not an option!

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If Ardmore Transit Center can be built without a new Train Station, could Paoli Transportation Center suffer the same fate?

Question for the Day: Where do you build a new transit center without building the new train station?

Answer:  Apparently in Ardmore.

According to an article by Cheryl Allison in yesterday’s Main Line Times, the latest plan presented for the Ardmore Transit Center includes parking garage, luxury apartments, restaurants and retail shops but no new train station . . . at least not until there is additional public funding. 

The Ardmore Transit Center developer, Carl Dranoff of Dranoff Properties presented his newest plan last week to a subcommittee of Lower Merion Board of Commissioners.  Due to $35 million funding gap on the original transit center plan, Dranoff scaled back his Ardmore Station redevelopment project, and presented his new ‘phased’ approach, which calls for adding a new train station at a later date.

I thought that the impetus for the Ardmore Transit Center project was a new train station.  The project received government funding based on that concept so how is it possible to exclude the train station in the initial phase.  Dranoff thinks that with the addition of private funding to existing public money construction on this $60 million scaled-back phase could start by next year. The new plan calls for adding the train station when additional public funding becomes available in the future. I must be missing something, isn’t this the ‘cart before the horse’?  Shouldn’t the project, the ‘transit’ project, start with the new train station ‘first’ and then add the other components to the train station instead of the other way around?

In addition to deleting a new train station in the initial phase of the Ardmore Transit Center project, the plan includes a dramatic reduction in parking, from 500 spaces to 270 spaces. We know availability of parking is a long-standing problem in Ardmore; will the reduced parking be adequate?

Do not get me wrong, I think that creating a new ‘Main Street’ development concept in Ardmore will revitalize the community and do much for the local business community.  However, how do they rationalize the government money that has already been used in the development phase of the plan, if the project no longer includes the train station component?   Dranoff’s new phased plan calls for a facelift to the existing Ardmore train station, but little else.

In the past, I have drawn comparisons between the proposed Ardmore Transit Center and the Paoli Transportation Center projects.  Looking at Dranoff’s new phase approach to the proposed transit center, I for one would not be pleased if the Paoli Transportation Center took the same direction in its development.

A new train station needs to be the focal point of Paoli’s redevelopment plan; the starting point of the project. Parking, retail, restaurants and office buildings should all be part of the overall concept of the Paoli Transportation Center but as far as I am concerned, without a new train station, there should be no Paoli Transportation Center project.

Speaking of Paoli Transportation Center . . . where do we stand with that project?

Prior posts on Ardmore Transit Center & Paoli Transportation Center:

Septa pulls 10 million in financial assistance from Ardmore Train Station Project, what does this mean for Paoli Transportation Center?

Will Ardmore Transit Centers funding issues impact the future of Paoli Transportation Center?

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