Main Line Suburban Life Article

Preserving parts of Ardrossan for open space in Radnor: Long time coming

Published: Tuesday, November 12, 2013

by Mike Weilbacher

Columnist, Green Light

The unfolding saga of the development and preservation of the storied Ardrossan estate is as sweeping as the magnificent vistas one receives when standing on (shoot, even near) the property. One of the very last of the very large Main Line estates, a true gem in Radnor’s crown, with a glorious estate house designed by landmark architect Horace Trumbauer, the property has been the intense focus of discussion for many decades in a wide variety of public and private circles. The township has literally been planning for this moment for a very long time, and even the non-profit Radnor Conservancy was formed with a not-so-hidden agenda of preserving that property.So it is extraordinary news that the township has announced tendering an $11.6 million offer to buy 71 acres of Ardrossan. At the same time, Eddie Scott, one of the heirs of the property and a real estate developer, has applied to build some 60 or so new homes on 280 acres, and a new non-profit may soon be forming to use and maintain the manor house.While I live in Lower Merion, with its own open space issues, I am happy to unabashedly support this effort. For a whole litany of reasons: let me count the ways.First, in a variety of mechanism including its master plan and its land use regulations, Radnor has been working toward this goal since the late 1980s, when a 1988 comprehensive plan singled out the Darby-Paoli Road viewshed as one noteworthy of preservation. Its 2003 update of the plan dealt extensively with open space, and in 2006, Radnor voters overwhelmingly—80 percent, if you can believe it—to approve a referendum for creating an opens space fund, something many over here in Lower Merion wish that township had the capacity to create.

Wow, when has 80 percent of one community ever voted for anything?

In addition, the parcels the township is looking at purchasing are contiguous with other Radnor parks like the Willows and Skunk Hollow—these are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for Radnor to expand its already existing parks. This is lightning that cannot strike too many more times as places like Radnor and Lower Merion move to being built out.

Another reason for public purchase of the property is the economic value Radnor will receive in return. Here you’ll need to check out a paper written by the respected firm Econsult and appearing on the Radnor Conservancy website detailing the economic advantages of open space preservation. Radnor residents near Ardrossan’s protected properties will likely see an increase in their property’s value as they can soon rightfully say they live alongside, or very close to, preserved parkland. Open space has an economic value. In fact, Econsult discovered that homes located within a quarter-mile of the Radnor Trail received an almost $70,000 property value increase on houses. People will pay for proximity to open space.

More: preserving the property saves Radnor money in other ways. Fewer houses in this area means fewer people needing fewer services here, lowering the impact on schools, fire, police, hospital, public works, and so on. One of the big surprises of suburban sprawl—one only starting to become understood in the last few years—is that while the property’s seller receives the full cash benefit of subdivision and development, the community receives the full cost in terms of more kids needing schooling, more trash needing pickup, more roads needing maintenance, more stormwater pouring downstream and flooding neighbors.

Speaking of stormwater, the properties are in the Darby Creek corridor, a creek under intense scrutiny regionally, one that has a lot of champions hoping it succeeds. Ecologically in great disrepair, Radnor has the opportunity to restore key sections of the creek and prevent stormwater flooding downstream; this alone makes the purchase invaluable, and you can bet everyone involved is exploring possible grant opportunities to leverage here.

Both Radnor Township and the Radnor Conservancy are being very transparent in their advocacy of this plan. Visiting the websites of both, it is remarkably easy to find not only the Econsult paper, but the township’s thoughtful white paper stating its case to purchase these 71 acres at this time—in fact, the conservancy puts it right there on its home page. Radnor residents have a right to question everyone and everything involved. But read this information first; you will find it remarkably helpful. Yes, Radnor admits its taxes may increase—but check out the numbers and decide if the benefits outweigh the costs.

East of Radnor in Lower Merion, Merion Station residents are unnerved by the Archdiocese’s decision to sell 45 of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary’s astonishing 75 acres at the intersection of Wynnewood Road and Lancaster Avenue. With an equally historic building attached to this property, it is incredibly unclear if this township has the ability to make a bid similar to what is happening in Radnor, and if it did, there is as yet no clear vision of how the community would use the property. Sadly, the seminary seems likely on a faster track than the township or its residents can keep up with.

What’s unfolding in Radnor is unique and special: after some three decades of discussion, deliberation, and dreaming, it has a real shot to grow protected open space by 71 acres.

Grab it. For the alternative is unthinkable.

Merion Station’s Mike Weilbacher, former director of the Lower Merion Conservancy, has been advocating for open space in this column for 16 years. Email him at mike.weilbacher@hotmail.com