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Radnor Planners Reject New Villanova University Garage

The Radnor Township Planning Commission rejected a proposed new four-story tall parking garage on the Villanova University campus.

The new garage would replace a two-story garage, VU lawyer Nicholas Caniglia told the Planning Commissioners on Feb. 6. The current steel and concrete structure, off Ithan Avenue,  is nearing the end of its useful life and sports signs saying “Park at your own risk.”

The university will require zoning variances for the building’s 52.7-foot height and additional setbacks from the property boundaries to build the new garage. It would add 232 parking spaces, said Mary Lou Smith, VU assistant vice president for engineering and construction.

Current Villanova parking garage

Caniglia said the school requires additional parking to comply with the township code for other possible projects in its long-term plan. VU Assistant Vice President Chris Kovolski insisted that Villanova has no plans to increase its enrollment. Instead, he said more students want to live on campus, so more dorm rooms will likely be needed.  Villanova has 6,700 undergraduates and 3,100 graduate and law students.

Planning Commission Chair M.J. Frumin noted that the university had just been before the commission in November with plans for a new library, which was approved.

“With all due respect, you’re planning to add dorms,” said Frumin. “That, to me, screams more people.”

Frumin told the VU officials he thinks they will have “a challenging time” proving a hardship needed for a zoning variance.

Resident Sara Pilling was concerned about traffic in the area, particularly the narrow SEPTA underpass on Ithan Avenue, where only one car at a time can pass.

“It’s dicey at the very best of times,” said Pilling.  “I have a deep concern. If they build 232 parking spaces, what is going to happen to that pinch-point?”

Ward 7 Commissioner Sean Farhy is concerned about the height of the proposed garage and also light pollution.

“It’s going to be too close for comfort (to residential neighborhoods),” he said. He suggested adding a parking deck underground to reduce the building’s height, but Smith told him that there were too many utilities.

Roberta Winters, another resident, said, “What happens at Villanova does not stay in Villanova. It impacts the greater Township. Among Radnor’s most pervasive problems are traffic, parking, and stormwater. Replacing the existing parking garage with one that is 53 feet high and holds 405 vehicles may reduce a parking concern, but it is bound to impact traffic, congestion, and create potential environmental issues.”

Winters said, “The garage site is problematic because of its location.  Ithan Avenue is already a busy thoroughfare between Lancaster and Montgomery avenues. The intersection with County Line Road at this spot is particularly hazardous.”  She also mentioned the narrow SEPTA bridge, saying traffic studies should be done.

Winters said neighbors were told that no more parking would be needed with the approval of dorms and an entertainment center on the south side of Lancaster Avenue a few years ago.

“If the university can collaborate to find parking for the Pope’s last visit, they should be able to find spaces at off-peak hours from other existing commercial and institutional spaces in the area. In addition to creative scheduling, shuttles, and even car services are always an option,” she said.

Winters was also concerned about environmental issues, such as stormwater runoff.

“I fear Villanova is eating those who live here, the properties that we own, and the quality of life we value, one bite at a time.  This is an opportunity for you to say, enough is enough,” she said.

Residents Tish Long and Rick Leonardi wrote to the planners expressing similar concerns. Leonardi also believes that some homeowners nearby who should have been notified of the university’s plans, were not.

“What we’re hearing is a tremendous amount of opposition from the public,” said Frumin.

The Radnor Zoning Hearing Board is scheduled to take up the VU parking garage appeal at its Feb. 16 meeting.

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Two Neighboring Townships, Nonprofit Unite to Manage Stormwater in Jenkintown Creek

From a press release

While Walt Whitman once penned “good fences make good neighbors,” stormwater knows no boundaries. Such was the case for the Jenkintown Creek that runs through Abington Township and Cheltenham Township.

Since 2014, the Jenkintown Creek has been a priority focus area for Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership (TTF) restoration efforts. One of TTF’s recent projects along Jenkintown Creek is the Conklin Recreation Center project, which is also part of Cheltenham Township’s Pollution Reduction Plan.

“An agreement was negotiated with Abington Township crediting Cheltenham for treating Abington’s stormwater by way of this project,” said Robert Zienkowski, Cheltenham Township Manager. “Cheltenham Township is a founding member of TTF and has a longstanding relationship working with TTF and other partners on water quality and stormwater management issues.”

A volunteer plants a new tree.

The restoration removed 235 feet of straight, piped concrete in order to let the Jenkintown Creek flow freely through the constructed wetland. With the TTF watershed being 98 percent developed, it has been difficult for communities to manage stormwater in the area. As communities develop and build, there is less ground to absorb stormwater; however, the Conklin Recreation Center restoration alleviates some of these issues.

In the fall of 2019, construction began to remove the piping next to the Charles D. Conklin Jr. Pool and Recreation Center in Cheltenham Township. Next, the stream had to be rerouted into a zig-zag pattern that follows the natural lay of the land. In addition to allowing the water to flow freely, this design prevents erosion as it slows the flow of water against the banks. Sediment can also drop out of the water into the creek bed to reduce pollution.

The COVID-19 pandemic put the project on hold until the following year. In the fall of 2020, volunteers planted flowering and ground-covering perennials, large grasses, shrubs and trees, on the banks of the newly restored tributary. The plants keep soil from eroding, hold in moisture, and prevent trash from entering the creek.

“The now naturally flowing Jenkintown Creek and wetland planted with native, deep-rooted plants not only improves water quality, it creates habitat in addition to slowing down and cleaning 40 acres of stormwater,” said Julie Slavet, Executive Director of TTF. “There are now fish in the creek, and more bees, birds, and butterflies visit, turning this site into an outdoor environmental classroom.”

In addition to making the area more environmentally friendly and visually appealing, the freely-flowing creek is much safer than the pipe, which had fast-moving water and ditches of dirty water.

Water in the Jenkintown Creek comes mostly from rain running off of more than 40 acres upstream in Montgomery County, including roads, residential properties, condominium complexes and commercial properties. This $183,662 project and others in the watershed impact the Tookany Creek, which flows into Tacony-Frankford Creek, and then connects into the Delaware River.

“This new green stormwater infrastructure improves the water quality of 42 acres of developed drainage area around the rec center, which had been directly discharging to the Jenkintown Creek,” said Anne Leavitt-Gruberger, administrator for the Montco 2040 Implementation Grant Program and manager of the County Planning Section of the Planning Commission. “This project directly ties to township goals as well as goals explicitly laid out in the county’s comprehensive plan.”

TTF and Cheltenham Township designed and managed the project, which was funded by the Montgomery County Planning Commission and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Temple University also partnered up with TTF and Cheltenham to develop the project’s concept and proposal, and provided assistance with water quality monitoring.

A ribbon cutting at the Charles D. Conklin Jr. Pool and Recreation Center was held on June 19, 2021. Many community members attended the event, including Cheltenham Township Ward 7 Commissioner Irv Brockington.

“The community members and families enjoying Conklin Pool this summer offered many positive remarks about the project and the revitalized natural system,” said Brockington.


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