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95 osp

The Township last prepared an Open Space and Environmental Resource Protection Plan in 1995. This section reviews that document with particular attention to the degree to which the goals and recommendations have been implemented. Since 1995, Lower Merion has aggressively pursued several preservation initiatives, including the adoption of a Historic Preservation Ordinance in 2000. This section also evaluates the 1995 Plan in light of the Township’s subsequent preservation efforts and begins of process of identifying new open space, natural resources and environmental protection issues. New open space preservation issues are raised and addressed throughout the body of this 2005 Plan.

PROCESS

The Open Space Plan Committee, comprised of elected officials, open space stakeholders, Township consultants Natural Lands Trust and Campbell Thomas and Associates and Township staff, met in April 2004 to evaluate the recommendations in the 1995 plan and the degree to which the Township had been able to implement the recommendations. From this meeting it was determined that:

  1. General mapping would be updated by the consultant and Township staff, using a Geographic Information System (GIS) format where possible; and
  2. The Committee would review goals and objectives in order to determine where updates and new goals are necessary; and
  3. A new plan would incorporate the open space linkages, trails and Schuylkill River links set forth in the Township-wide Pedestrian and Bicycle Pathway Study, and the Mill Creek Open Space Network; and
  4. The committee would further explore how to determine which land is appropriate for purchase and how to create an enhanced system of open space for the benefit of all Township residents.

MAPPING

Natural Lands Trust, Campbell Thomas and Associates and Township staff updated inventories and mapping from the 1995 Plan and integrated this information into the Township’s GIS. Mapping from other relevant open space, natural features and recreation plans was also incorporated into the GIS database.

SUMMARY OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND GAPS
IN ACHIEVING THE 1995 OPEN SPACE PLAN GOALS

GOAL 1:  Develop a shared vision of open space, which enhances the quality of life for all Township residents.

Accomplishments: In general, this goal was met through completion of the 1995 Open Space Plan; substantial public involvement (including monetary donations) and support of the acquisition of Rolling Hill Park; a monitoring program for open space in open space subdivisions with assistance from the Lower Merion Conservancy; and continued fine-tuning of the Open Space Preservation District and other natural features ordinances. The outpouring of public support for open space and recreation services in the 2004 Resident’s Survey verifies that Township efforts, along with those of local environmental education, conservancies, and other non-profit organizations are important to residents.

GOAL 2:  Create an enhanced system of open space for the benefit of all Township residents.

Accomplishments: The 1995 Open Space Plan called for several short-term implementation steps, nearly all of which have been accomplished. Highlights include: purchasing Rolling Hill Park; developing an access and use plan for the park; completing the Mill Creek Open Space Network Plan; working with the Lower Merion Conservancy and encouraging landowners to dedicate or sell trail easements; completing an updated map of parks and other recreational facilities; and developing additional recreational facilities (Richie Ashburn Park).

Gaps: Although the Township maintains an inventory of parcels of five or more acres, the 1995 plan suggested that smaller open space sites should be inventoried. This was not completed. Additional playing fields (which require at least 5 acres of land) are still needed.

GOAL 3:  Preserve the Township’s cultural, historical and environmental context.

Accomplishments: The Township’s award-winning historic preservation programs have been strengthened over the past decade, although threats to historic resources have intensified due to infill development pressure. Accomplishments include: development of a maintenance program for Township-owned buildings; design guidelines for historic districts; the addition of the General Wayne historic district; a historic preservation ordinance; a staff/consultant to assist with HARB applications; and creation of a Historical Commission. The Lower Merion Historical Society and Lower Merion Conservancy provide educational programs to residents.

Gaps: In spite of strong local tools and enforcement of historic preservation standards, demolition of historic structures occurs and is difficult to prevent.

GOAL 4:  Achieve maximum protection of environmental resources through the creation of interconnected open spaces.

Accomplishments: The 1995 plan suggested a strong educational component. The Township is fortunate to have two organizations, the Lower Merion Conservancy and Riverbend Educational Center, that offer extensive education to adults and children regarding the Township’s natural resources.

Gaps: Many of the trails in Lower Merion are “informal,” located on private land and not protected by conservation easement. One new owner blocking a trail can eliminate connections.

GOAL 5:  Exercise responsible stewardship of public and private open space.

Accomplishments: Lower Merion Township is one of the few municipalities in the Commonwealth to have adopted stewardship plans for natural resources. The Township adopted a management plan for Rolling Hill Park; an inventory of all Township owned natural lands; and, a staffed, stewardship/natural areas management program within the Parks and Recreation Department. The natural areas program is currently on hold due to budget limitations, but is expected to be included in the 2006 budget. The Township has also received funds and planted riparian buffers, the Ashbridge Park plantings setting an excellent example of responsible stewardship. The Township requires management plans for open space in new subdivisions. The Lower Merion Conservancy assists in monitoring these areas.

Gaps: Land Stewardship is an emerging field not understood by the general public. As an example landowners are often unaware that clearing and mowing to the edge of a stream increases erosion and lowers water quality. Private landowners need to be educated through multi-media education and demonstration projects about the merits of managing natural lands.

EVALUATION OF
ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND GAPS IN ACHIEVING THE 1995
RECOMMENDATIONS

RECOMMENDATION 1:  Creating a Linked Open Space System

Evaluation:

  • It is Township policy that all development proposals include an evaluation of potential on site open space and potential linkages to existing parklands and public facilities. This effort is easier to implement utilizing the Township GIS.
  • Recreational use of narrow portions of the open space system is generally restricted to passive activities except where necessary to implement existing or planned recreational trails.
  • The Township does consider the findings of the Mill Creek Open Space Study and Schuylkill River Heritage Corridor Plan when making conservation and park planning decisions. The Township is considering developing other stream open space networks.

RECOMMENDATION 2:  Open Space Preservation Techniques

Evaluation:

  • Additional open space parcels are preserved through regulatory actions, (implementation of ordinances and amendments to ordinances requiring open space), easements (through land development) and donations. Fee simple acquisition requires public input and consent of the Board of Commissioners.
  • Private and institutional landowners are encouraged to dedicate conservation easements.
  • The Township does encourage and support non-profit conservation groups such as the Lower Merion Conservancy.
  • The Township has not developed a public handout explaining unprotected and vulnerable resources to assist in determining preservation areas.

RECOMMENDATION 3:  Parklands/Recreational Facilities

Evaluation:

  • The Township has completed a recreational needs study as part of the 1996 Parks and Recreation Plan.
  • The Township is currently (as part of this Plan) acquiring new park recreation property to meet needs identified in the Parks and Recreation Plan, with particular emphasis on developing open spaces (pocket parks) in underserved neighborhoods.
  • The Township is developing Rolling Hill Park as a Community Park and limiting uses to passive activities compatible with site conditions. A master plan was prepared in 1999.
  • The Township has not installed or publicized an experimental section of a public nature trail to date, but plans on doing so as a feature of this Plan.
  • The Township has conducted a feasibility study of a Township-wide trail network, linking existing trail resources (Bridlewild) with Township amenities and the Schuylkill River. Sidewalks were included in this evaluation.

POLICIES AND METHODS FOR PROTECTING OPEN SPACE

Policies Evaluation:

  • General policies outlined in the 1995 Lower Merion Township Open Space Study are still applicable:
    • Act to preserve identified resources.
    • Encourage private as well as public efforts to preserve open space.
    • Make open space efforts geographically diverse.
    • Connect resources to maximize usefulness.
    • Use development process to augment specific open space preservation efforts.
  • When considering open space purchases, the Township still utilizes the decision making tree. (Included in the implementation section of this plan)

Methods Evaluation:

  • The methods outlined in this section have either been implemented or incorporated into this document for continued consideration with the exception of the Planned Residential Development (PRD), which has been replaced by the Open Space Preservation District Overlay. The Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) remains valid but is generally not relevant to the development/preservation climate of the Township.

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