Wynnewood Train Station

Have you heard?

What's changed in Lower Merion over the past 25 years? That's the length of time Commissioner Rogan has served our community; the first 13 years as the Assistant and then Director of the Township's Planning and Community Development Department and then, these past 12 years, as the representative for Ward 7.

Below is a list of comments you may have heard along with brief answers and links to more data and detailed information. Our goal is to provide accurate and useful information to help you develop informed opinions about what has transpired and where our community is headed.

  • "Thousands of approved housing units will change the community's character and hurt property values."

    "Approved units" are not developed units. Having real data is helpful, especially if you want to understand what's happening in the community. Here are the Census figures:

    2010 Census 2000 Census Difference % Change
    Population 57,837 59,850 -2,013 -3.4%
    Occupied Housing Units 22,473 22,868 -363 -1.6%

    In the end, the population and number of homes people live in have not been growing, rapidly or otherwise. The make-up of the township's population will ebb and flow, but over-development is in fact not a problem.

    For more documented facts and figures regarding housing and development in Lower Merion, please see Housing over the years below.

  • "The Comprehensive Plan is out of date and there is no plan for the future."

    The existing 1979 Comprehensive Plan is old, which is why topical updates have been done since the late 1980s. Planning in Lower Merion has always been an ongoing and iterative process, as demonstrated by the exhaustive data gathering and evaluation effort finished approximately 10 years ago, culminating in the Planning Department's detailed Issues Report.

    More recently, Planning Commission members worked with Township staff and dozens of residents serving on more than a half dozen sub-committees, to draft a new Comprehensive Plan. The results of this work was reviewed and discussed by the Planning Commission and subsequently recommended for approval by the Board of Commissioners. Please see Comprehensive Plan below for more details.

  • "High density, multi-family housing will be built on part of the Seminary's property."

    No! There will not be high density, multi-family housing at that site. St. Charles' is zoned for single family homes, the same as the residential neighborhood next door to the Seminary; there will not be apartment buildings going up. What is likely to become of St. Charles? Please see St. Charles possibilities below for the answer.

  • "Lower Merion is growing too quickly, creating overcrowded conditions in the public schools."

    Several different but related elements contribute to why people might believe the cause and effect relationship of this statement, even though it is incorrect. First, as census information shows, Lower Merion's population isn't growing.

    However, in strong, desirable communities, demographic characteristics do change and the change reflects natural cycles. First, families with young children move to neighborhoods with good schools, then children grow up and aging parents look to downsize and then, once again, new young adults ready to raise their children move into those homes. Please see The Complete Picture, below, for additional factors influencing what people think is happening Lower Merion.

  • "Commissioner Rogan just does whatever developers want her to do."

    Those who know Commissioner Rogan realize that her vision for the future and dedication to sustainability are reflected in the contributions she has made to the community over the last 25 years. Having grown up in Levittown, our Country's first post war suburb, she well understands what it's like to live in an area that was designed to fuel the growth of the (then new) car industry. Grateful for the history that is the foundation of our community's character, be reassured that Levittown will never be her model for the future of William Penn's first "Greene Countrie Towne."

  • "Lower Merion's financial house is at-risk with too much long-term debt."

    Those with concerns can rest easy since the Township's ongoing practice of fiscal conservatism remains intact. Working with her colleagues and Township staff, Commissioner Rogan makes sure upcoming operational and capital needs are identified and addressed in the general fund and capital improvement budgets and in the five year Capital Improvement Plan. According to Moodys and Standard and Poors the Township's debt load is quite sustainable.

Housing over the years

In the Draft Background Section of the Draft Comprehensive Plan, Table 2.13 lists all the housing units proposed or constructed in Lower Merion since 2002. Figures 2.14 – 2.16 graphically show the status, type and potential ownership of these units. Interestingly, while slightly more than 2,600 units are "in the pipeline" only 199 net new units have been built since 2010.

Of the 199 recently built residential units, 110 are in Ward 7 in the historic Palmer Seminary building at the intersection of City and Lancaster Avenues. In 2011 developers purchased the site to preserve and restore the historic building, originally designed by the famous architect Horace Trumbauer as the "Green Hill Farms Hotel." These smaller, luxury rental units are attractive to retired empty nesters, young professionals, including those working at Lankenau Medical Center, and others desiring easy access to Philly via the Overbrook train station. Here’s the MainLine Times article about the building’s opening.

Another example of residential units in the "pipeline" include the 250 apartments proposed to be built next to the Thomas Wynne Apartments and the Wynnewood train station. This proposal was approved in 2002 when Commissioner Rogan was a member of the Township staff. To date, 13 years later, the approved plan has not been recorded and is not under construction. If or when the development moves forward, then new residents will be steps away from the train line and can easily walk to Narberth's downtown and all the retail stores in Wynnewood.

Many people know the old saying about "statistics" so, please note that just as there were fewer occupied housing units in 2010 when compared to 2000, the Census shows there were also 2,013 fewer people living in Lower Merion in 2010 than in 2000. The web sites of the Montgomery County Planning Commission and the DelawareValley Regional Planning Commission have more information of this nature, including the following population figures and projections for the Township:

2000 (census) 58,740
2010 (census) 57,825
2015 58,123
2020 58,600
2025 59,053
2030 59,507
2035 59,784
2040 59,882

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Comprehensive Plan

As Township residents who attended a series of public meetings on adoption of an updated Comprehensive Plan are aware, the process of updating the Plan has been on-going for more than five years. There has been, as the LMT web site notes, very substantial public input during this process, input that has been employed by Township staff and the Board as development projects have come up for review. As mentioned above, the Planning Commission recommended the Board of Commissioners approve the draft plan in July. You can read about the recommendation here.

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St. Charles possibilities

If you've been told that "Commissioner Rogan supports “high-rise” or “high density multi-family housing” or “rezoning” (changing the uses permitted by law) the Seminary's property" it is not true.

Commissioner Rogan has clearly and publicly stated: "There will never be a re-zoning at St. Charles Seminary" for higher-density housing while she is Commissioner. (Main Line Times, Friday April 24, 2015)

If/when a portion of the site is redeveloped, it will probably look like one of the two proposals already submitted to the Seminary. Both propose a continuing care facility, such as Waverly Heights or Beaumont occupying the historic buildings fronting on East Wynnewood Road. The concept would be to rehabilitate and reuse the College Building for "independent living" units with an assisted living or nursing care facility across from Lankenau Hospital along Lancaster Avenue. The chapel would continue to be used by the Seminary’s and the rest of the property would remain open and undeveloped. The end result - little if any visible change to the existing historic building, little traffic, no school-aged kids and a real estate tax paying owner.

Whatever plan ends up being submitted for approval, Seminary representatives and potential developers are all well aware of the community's concerns and preferences for the property. Before the public announcement, Commissioner Rogan worked with Bishop Senior to ensure residents were brought into the process from the beginning. Her effort resulted in 1) an open house being scheduled for interested neighbors and 2) appointment of a small, representative group of neighbors to participate in a series of facilitated meetings which lead to the community’s goals and vision for the future being documented in a report that was shared with respondents to the Seminary's Request for Proposals.

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The Complete Picture

We live in a safe, desirable community. We have enviable pubic services and facilities, including beautiful parks, newly refurbished libraries and extensive youth and adult recreational programs. There is ready access to the airport, local and regional rail service, high quality medical care, jobs, shopping and entertainment, and of course, first class public schools. Since people want to live in desirable places and developers know this, the process of planning for and controlling development is critical if we are to preserve the quality and character of our community.

Controlling development in Pennsylvania is challenging. Property owners and the "free market" decide which properties are developed when and how. Local governments are obliged to process development applications and elected officials must consider and act on them or risk automatic approval without any chance of addressing community concerns. Given this framework, elected officials must understand the legal requirements and fiscal implications of any development decision, and the community is best served when the decisions are predicated on a clear understanding of demographic trends and community development patterns.

Not every elected official has this type of expertise and having a representative who does provides a substantial benefit. While serving as the Township's Planning Director, Commissioner Rogan earned the respect and trust of many people in the development industry and that fact accrues to the benefit of the Ward's residents and the township as a whole. This positive reservoir can and does play an important role in resolving sometimes contentious disagreements, crafting solutions that better address community concerns, and allow competing interests to come to agreement.

Of course, there are times when neither trust nor years of building effective working relationships will suffice, and a commissioner ends up getting sued when a decision made to protect the community's character is considered unacceptable by a property owner/developer, as was the case in the recent past. Even in the face of occurrences such as this, Commissioner Rogan is committed to doing what it takes to preserve the quality and character of the home she chose to raise her family in and has dedicated herself to serve and protect for the past 25 years.

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Commissioner Rogan's vision

In 1990 Commissioner Rogan moved to Pennsylvania and dedicated herself to protecting and enhancing Lower Merion's greatest assets and she "double downed" in 1999 when she and her husband decided to buy their home and raise their two boys in Wynnewood. The innovative land use and development regulations drafted and adopted over the last two decades and the hours of Committee and Board meetings she has participated in, stand testament to her commitment to controlling the problems commonly associated with property development.

Societies evolve over time and, as Francis Bacon said: "Things alter for the worse spontaneously if they be not altered for the better designedly." Commissioner Rogan's commitment to preserving the quality and character of Lower Merion Township is clear. The fact that the township's population is stable today while housing types become more diverse and new development is located to support a sustainable lifestyle, demonstrate the success of Commissioner Rogan's efforts.

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Ask Moodys and Standard and Poors

The Moodys and Standard and Poors ratings agencies have consistently given the Township's debt AAA ratings, the safest possible municipal bond ratings available, citing the Township's strong financial management and prudent fiscal policies.

Better still, what comes along with that stellar rating are rock-bottom interest rates allowing the Township to borrow money really cheaply - lenders bid down the interest rate to gain the right to lend to the Township - and use that money to invest in restoring infrastructure, our libraries, parks, lighting, roads and bridges, generating a substantial return on that investment in maintaining the desirability of living in Lower Merion, our economic vitality and the value of our homes.

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