Ardmore master plan removes increased building heights — at least for now

The Ardmore master plan, which would approve building heights and density, is scheduled to be approved in the next few months. However, one critic has called it "the opposite of a plan," which could lead to a clash in the future.

Ardmore master plan removes increased building heights — at least for now

Lower Merion Township commissioners have argued that the proposed Ardmore Master Plan is not complete without a zoning amendment to allow taller buildings. This was one of the controversial aspects of the plan.

A draft of the master plan for Main Line, which had been in development for a year, was revealed to the public earlier this spring. The plan outlined the possibility of creating a transit overlay area, which would permit four-story building by right as well as five-story structures with setbacks on frontage and affordable housing. Six-story building would be permitted if the buildings are located near train tracks and have affordable housing and frontage setbacks.

The zoning changes have been removed from the new version of the plan after residents and commissioners pushed back.

Regardless, any zoning changes proposed in the masterplan would require separate approval. The commissioners could create a future task force to consider zoning proposals.

Residents and commissioners who were unhappy with the allowances for taller building are happy that the zoning change has been removed from the masterplan.

The majority of the community have said loudly over the years that they don't want more height. Micah Snead is a former Ardmore Progressive Civic Association President and member of the masterplan steering committee. He said, 'We don't want more density. We continue to receive it despite our statements. I agree that it's a good thing to remove that from the document.

Jillian Dierks, Lower Merion's Senior Planner, said that the plan included a higher density after residents expressed their desire for walkability and affordability. She believes that allowing for more density will help to address these concerns.

The opponents of the height allowance claimed that more density would lead to more traffic and the loss Ardmore's charming.

In a meeting held earlier, Lower Merion Director Chris Leswing and Commissioner Ray Courtney agreed that the proposed zoning overlay, which required a different type of approval, diverted people's attention away from the purpose of the master plan as a guide for Lower Merion to make future decisions.

The master plan is expected to be approved within the next few weeks. This could lead to a future clash between building heights and densities.

Courtney stated that six stories was still a difficult concept to accept, especially since it wasn't an option in the new zoning code. Five was the original maximum. "It's still a bit troubling that six is listed as an option."

Courtney refers to the considerations of a future taskforce to explore taller building.

In the updated master plan, a separate task force is also asked to investigate an incentive option in exchange for higher densities. New developments, for example, could be permitted to have a higher density if they included underground parking, affordable housing and public gathering spaces, as well as sustainability components, multimodal transportation improvements, and sustainable components.

A Lower Merion mixed-use transit district allowed higher-density housing until 2020. The township revised its zoning codes three years ago to reduce density.

Snead is pleased that the township listened to the feedback received when the draft masterplan was released. However, he expressed concern about the unresolved zoning issue.

Snead stated that this is similar to another plan, which is to say, "Oh, we won't have a definitive answer yet but we will keep thinking about it."