Recommendations

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This section presents recommendations for projects, programs and policies to address the immediate and long-term open space needs of Lower Merion Township. These recommendations are derived from the preceding analysis of open space realities, inventories, opportunities and possibilities. This analysis reveals the following:

REALITIES

  • The Township is built out & facing significant infill development pressure in the form of tear-down/rebuilds in single-family neighborhoods and higher-density mixed-use redevelopment in commercial/industrial areas.
  • Older downtown commercial areas of the Township are in need of physical and economic revitalization.
  • Residential infill development threatens natural features, particularly large trees, and historic resources, which are being removed for larger homes and on-site stormwater management systems.
  • The existing Bridlewild Trail Network in Gladwyne is threatened by new development, overuse and changing social conditions.
  • Over two thirds of the Township is comprised of single-family detached homes and another 12% is occupied by institutional land uses.
  • The Township has a long history of open space and historic resource preservation and has developed a solid body of preservation techniques.
  • There is strong public support for open space preservation.
  • There is a need for additional open space in the higher density areas to the south and east.
  • There is strong public support for green infrastructure.
  • Large areas of the Township’s street trees inventory is reaching maturity or is past maturity and needs to be replaced.
  • The demographics of the Township indicate support for alternative recreation activities such as biking and running.
  • The Townships pedestrian/bicycle network takes second place to automobile use and is difficult or dangerous to navigate in many sections.

INVENTORIES

  • The township has a wealth of open spaces, however a large amount of the Township’s open space is temporarily protected. These resources contain a significant amount of the Township’s natural features, private recreation, and institutional and historic resources.
  • Temporarily protected resources make important contributions to the ‘Greene Country’ character of the Township.
  • While the Township has an excellent park system, much of it is devoted to passive recreation. Passive recreation areas are used to protect natural features and require continued maintenance to prevent degradation from erosion and invasive species.
  • Open space is unequally distributed throughout the Township, with over 50% contained in the northern and western areas.
  • There is strong public demand for additional active recreation spaces, particularly soccer and baseball fields.

OPPORTUNITIES

  • There are two significant open space bond initiatives available to support open space planning and preservation, the $625 million Pennsylvania Growing Greener II Program and the $150 million Montgomery County Green Fields/Green Towns Program.
  • There is a regional effort by state, county, municipal and non-profit entities to establish the Schuylkill River as a regional greenway for resource protection, heritage tourism and recreation.
  • There are realistic opportunities for multi-municipal open space planning between Lower Merion and many of its neighboring communities, including Narberth, West Conshohocken, Upper Merion and Philadelphia.
  • There is a regional bike/trail network developing and Lower Merion has many potential connections.
  • There are numerous ‘forgotten’ parcels of land throughout the Township left over from highway or railroad construction that are unsuitable for commercial/residential development, but could be cobbled together for recreation/open space use.

POSSIBILITIES

  • It is possible to establish a linked network of open spaces in the Township along the Schuylkill River.
  • The network of open spaces could be linked by a series of multi-use trails, which could be used for recreation and will increase access.
  • It is possible to construct a multi-use recreation trail, similar to the one in Radnor Township along the R-6 rail line between Cynwyd and Manayunk. It is possible to link this trail with a river trail.
  • It is possible to create new open spaces in commercial areas through redevelopment.
  • It is possible to create new pocket parks in developed areas on vacant, former institutional lands or residential lands.
  • It is possible to enhance the everyday public landscape with coordinated new gateways, corridors and node enhancements.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Because efforts to create new open spaces and preserve natural resources in Lower Merion often conflict with private development, it is impractical for the Township to identify specific properties for acquisition. However the following priority projects have been identified for investment based upon the analysis of this Plan. Each project description is consistent with plan goals and identified needs of the Plan and establishes criteria for investment. Projects are listed in order of priority.

However, because of the vast number of properties identified for open space or historic resource protection, these priorities may change if a particular property becomes available or threatened.

Projects have been identified that will make the largest positive Township-wide impact.

Acquire land necessary for and construct new playfields for soccer and/or baseball.

The primary open space recommendation is to construct at least one site suitable for a soccer field or baseball field. Such a site must be a minimum of 5-acres to accommodate the field and parking. However, this recommendation may not be realized due to the lack of available land and costs of acquisition involved. The Township should also explore the use of artificial turf fields to maximize the playing time on the fields that do exist.

Create an Emerald Necklace of open spaces along the Schuylkill River from Philadelphia to West Conshohocken connecting many of Township’s largest and most important open spaces, natural features and historic resources with a network of recreational trails.

In the 1860’s Frederick Law Olmstead designed a comprehensive park system for the City of Boston linking many of the largest open spaces in the City together via a 7-mile network of paths and greenways. This park system has become known as the ‘Emerald Necklace’ and to this day still preserves many of the most important open spaces in Boston.

While Boston is one of the largest cities in the Country, the 7-mile Emerald Necklace park system is roughly the length of Lower Merion’s Schuylkill riverfront and the total acreage of this part of its park system is close to the size of the open spaces in Lower Merion along the Schuylkill River between Philadelphia and West Conshohocken.

Lower Merion’s Emerald Necklace will consist of a string of trails linking together open space ‘pearls’ stretching from West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Cynwyd through Flat Rock Park, Rolling Hill Park, the Henry Foundation, and Riverbend in Gladwyne. The main string is envisioned as a continuous multi-use trail along the Schuylkill River connecting to the regional trail network and eventually stretching from West River Drive in Philadelphia to Valley Forge Park in Upper Merion. While this trail will have regional connections, Lower Merion’s emerald necklace will also have several smaller bracelets designed for local use. The smaller, local trails are intended to formalize and preserve key portions of the Bridlewild Network for future generations of residents.

This Plan recognizes the importance of balancing the needs of maintaining the low-intensity use of the Bridlewild Network for local residents while providing higher intensity recreational linkages for all Township residents. To that end, it is recommended that the Schuylkill Expressway physically separate the main stem of the trail from much of Gladwyne and access to the local network be encouraged for Township residents.

In order to realize this vision it is recommended:

  • That the Township acquire outright or purchase/negotiate easements necessary to establish a coordinated trail network between these resources.
  • That the Township acquire outright or purchase development rights to any temporarily protected resource identified on the necklace.
  • That the Township prepare a detailed feasibility study, with design specifications, and construct formal trails as rights are secured and funds become available.

The realization of this vision will take years to complete and will require complex negotiations with private landowners, Norfolk Southern, SEPTA and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. In order to make it more manageable the Emerald Necklace has been broken up into the following smaller projects.

SCHUYLKILL RIVER TRAIL

The Schuylkill River Trail in Lower Merion is envisioned as part of a much larger, regional trail extending from West River Drive in Philadelphia to Valley Forge National Park. The Trail in Lower Merion consists of the following five separate sections.

RIVER TRAIL KEY MAP

SECTION 5

WEST RIVER DRIVE TO GEORGIA PACIFIC/ AQUA FITNESS SITE

This trail section is envisioned to run through an underutilized/obsolete portion of the Norfolk Southern rail yard under City Avenue. This yard has excess capacity and formerly served industrial uses between Lower Merion and Conshohocken. With the conversion of these former industrial sites, such as Georgia Pacific, to high-end residential uses in coming years, it is unlikely that this portion of the rail facility will again be required for industrial purposes. The portion of the yard that is necessary for the trail has tracks in disrepair and has not been used for some time.

Construction of this portion of the trail will require cooperation/negotiation with Norfolk Southern for outright acquisition or easements. The Township has also begun discussions with Philadelphia, through the Fairmount Park Commission, to connect the trail to the West River Drive recreation path.

SECTION 4

GEORGIA PACIFIC SITE TO THE HARRY OLSEN TRAIL

This trail section will run along the riverfront opposite Manayunk roughly between the Pencoyd Bridge and the Green Lane/Belmont Avenue Bridge. It is anticipated that most of this trail section will be constructed as a public waterfront promenade as this area is redeveloped, however the westernmost section will most likely require public investment.

This section has significant potential to become similar to the Riverwalk in San Antonio with new residential and commercial development along both sides of the river. A trail along the Lower Merion side could be used for bikes, but would also open this section of the river for other entertainment or recreation activities.

The Township has been working with potential developers to ensure that new development along the river includes public recreation access. Additionally, the Township has been working with the Manayunk Development Corporation and the East Falls Development Corporation to create a shared river vision and coordinate/maximize development/recreational opportunities.

This trail section links the ‘pearls’ of West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Westminster Cemetery and Bala Park via Righters Ferry Road or the proposed R-6 Rail to Trail.

RIVER TRAIL SECTIONS 3-5 DETAIL MAP

 
SECTION 3

THE HARRY OLSEN TRAIL

This trail section extends from the Green Lane/Belmont Avenue Bridge to Flat Rock Park between the Schuylkill Expressway and the Schuylkill River. This trail section was blazed by Harry Olsen in the 1980’s and has a semi-solid base. This is an absolutely beautiful section of waterfront and provides direct access to the river. It is not uncommon to see people using this area for swimming or other recreational activities.

It is envisioned that this will be the first river trail section constructed. Access is provided at both ends. The Belmont Avenue end is only accessible by foot or bike and visitors must park a distance away. However, visitors can access this trail section at Flat Rock Park where parking is available.

This trail section essentially extends Flat Rock Park to the east and will be improved with a multi-use trail. Improvement of this trail section will require renovation of the existing landscape and must consider the ecological/physical impacts of the Expressway, which drains through it. Coordination with PennDOT and Norfolk Southern is necessary for completion of this section.

This section links the pearls of Flat Rock Park, Flat Rock Dam and the Fish Ladder into the necklace. This section also provides access to the pearls of Rolling Hill Park and Gladwyne Village center.

RIVER TRAIL SECTION 3 DETAIL MAP

 
SECTION 2

RIVER ROAD

This trail section extends from Flat Rock Park to Waverly Road in Gladwyne parallel to the river. The majority of this section is occupied by homes between the road and the river. This section of River Road is very narrow and does not contain much of a shoulder. Because of the physical constraints of River Road and to respect the residents of this area it is recommended that this trail section be constructed on the landward side of River Road as a new shoulder or parallel to the Norfolk Southern tracks. Ideally a physical separation between the trail and the existing homes should be constructed. The best route for this section would run along the elevated railroad alignment.

Parts of this section will be fairly easy to construct, but the entire section will require significant design and construction to run the trail between the railroad, road and homes. This section will require cooperation between residents and Norfolk Southern.

This trail section will provide access to the ‘pearls’ of Gladwyne via Waverly Road. It will allow Bridlewild users to access other sections of the river trail.

RIVER TRAIL SECTION 2 DETAIL MAP

 
SECTION 1

OLD RIVER ROAD

This trail section runs between the Schuylkill Expressway and Norfolk Southern tracks between Waverly Road and the Four Falls Corporate Park in West Conshohocken. Entrance to this trail section from the east will be along a section of River Road that was vacated during the construction of the Schuylkill Expressway in the 1950’s. This area is used as a leaf recycling facility and was formerly a rail yard, similar to the one at City Avenue.

The River Road section runs parallel to the train tracks for approximately a mile until the leaf facility ends. Field investigation shows that much of the “old River Road’ still exists, although it was abandoned and buried during construction of the expressway. It is likely that much of this section is within the Right-of-Way of the Schuylkill Expressway. It is physically separated by grade from both the Expressway (uphill) and rail tracks (downhill). Although this section does not run right along the river, it does offer a continual view of both the river and a working rail line. This view is consistent with the industrial heritage of the River.

This trail section ends at the Township Line with West Conshohocken Borough at the Four Falls Corporate Center. There are a couple of residences near the end of the trail and the final design and construction should respect their privacy. There are also a couple of abandoned ‘mill-type residences’ which potentially could be repurposed as hostels or restaurants.

This trail section can serve as a unique trailhead as the corporate center has thousands of structured parking spaces that are free on weekends. The corporate park has direct automobile access from both Interstates 76 and 476. The driveways through the Center provide connections across the River to the river trail on the opposite side. West Conshohocken is currently working with the Corporate Center to permit public access along their waterfront promenade. If granted, this will allow access along the River toward Valley Forge through West Conshohocken, Bridgeport and Upper Merion.

There is also the potential for a direct linkage to the Riverbend Educational Center via an existing drainage culvert that runs under the Expressway.

Construction of this rail section will require cooperation of both PennDOT and Norfolk Southern.

RIVER TRAIL SECTION 1 DETAIL MAP A

Detail Sect1A

RIVER TRAIL SECTION 1 DETAIL MAP B

 

TOWNSHIP-WIDE PEDESTRIAN BICYCLE NETWORK

  • Implement the priority projects identified within the Township-Wide Pedestrian/Bicycle Plan.
  • Continue implementation of secondary and long-term projects through the land development process and in the course of public works improvements. Integrate proposed trail sections with GIS and link with various departments throughout Township.
  • Coordinate bike-friendly storm grates and share the road signage on all appropriate public works projects.
  • Work with Narberth Borough, Manayunk Development Corporation and the East Falls Development Corporation to prepare a Township-area wide bike map/field guide showing priority routes and destinations. A field guide could be both paper and web based and will serve as a recreational/educational and economic development tool.

Philadelphia Cycle and Field Club's house in Ardmore. Image from 1896 Cycle and Driver's Best Routes in and around Philadelphia.

BRIDLEWILD NETWORK

  • Work with Bridlewild Association to prepare a master plan identifying threatened trail sections and develop strategies for balancing the long-term protection of trail sections with the rights of private property owners.
  • Work with Bridlewilds to secure permanent easements of trail portions necessary for the Emerald Necklace. Sections formalized with public money must be publicly accessible.

R-6 RAIL TO TRAIL

Septa discontinued service and tore up the tracks between Cynwyd Station and Manayunk in the 1980’s. Since that time this rail corridor has sat vacant and unused. It is being considered for reactivation as part of the Schuylkill Valley Metro – Regional Rail Project, but this seems unlikely, given the current public transportation climate and the physical improvements necessary for implementation.

Since this corridor is not being used and will not likely be used in the foreseeable future the Township should work with SEPTA to permit construction of a multi-use trail. Such a trail could be temporary until reactivation where it can be shifted to the periphery of the ROW.

This trail section could provide a significant recreational amenity to an underserved portion of the Township. This section also can be connected to the River Trail at the Georgia Pacific site and can connect to the rest of the Township via Belmont Avenue and Rock Hill Road.

This trail section links the ‘pearls’ of West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Westminster Cemetery and Bala Park to the network. There is a long-range possibility of opening up the railroad bridge and connecting the trail to Manayunk.

ROCKLAND AVENUE BRIDGE

The Township has been in discussions with Narberth Borough to explore ways to reconstruct or repair the Rockland Avenue Bridge over the R-5 rail corridor for pedestrian traffic. This is an important pedestrian linkage between the two communities and is primarily used by Narberth children to access the elementary school in Lower Merion.

CREATE NEW SPACES IN NEW PLACES
OR UNPAVE PARKING LOTS AND RECLAIM PARADISE

Open space planning does not have to always be a defensive exercise of keeping valuable land away from development; in built-out communities like Lower Merion, open space planning can also have an offensive component where open space is reclaimed from developed areas. Every neighborhood would benefit from additional green space, some more so than others. Priority investment should focus upon the most underserved areas indicated on the underserved areas map. Potential projects include:

  • Purchasing vacant or available parcels for conversion into local neighborhood parks. Working with neighborhood groups to identify neighborhood-specific designs and maintenance strategies.
  • Requiring new public green spaces and plazas in revitalizing commercial/mixed-use areas, particularly Ardmore, Bryn Mawr and City Avenue. The Township can work with developers to acquire new land for pocket parks or to covert existing Township parking lots back into parks.
  • Explore creating a low interest loan program through local financial institutions, where neighborhood organizations can purchase sensitive properties threatened with demolition and subdivision.
  • Encourage donation or bargain sale of properties for creation of new public spaces or preservation of community green spaces.

PRESERVE AND
ENHANCE THE GREENE COUNTRY TOWNE

Throughout the planning process it has become evident that Township residents highly value the Township’s green infrastructure and that the Township’s green infrastructure is in need of significant attention and investment. It has also become evident that the current and projected scope of green infrastructure investments is beyond the capacities of Township staff to adequately address. Currently green infrastructure is handled by several different departments and not always coordinated to the best degree possible.

  • It is therefore recommended that the Township create a dedicated position or office to specifically coordinate green infrastructure at the grass roots level. The Township should explore creating a community greening advocate based upon successful examples employed by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in Center City and University City. A community greening advocate could be established as a Township staff position or as an independent non-profit, as there is adequate private funding to support such a position.

A community greening advocate would be able to work with Township staff, residents/civics and private/non profit funders to identify locations and coordinate improvements. This would capture monies that are currently being missed and promote enhanced community involvement. This position could support local efforts with training, materials, funding and technical support. Additionally, some projects would benefit from additional seasonal support like a dedicated watering truck. A high-quality public realm requires high levels of design and maintenance.

  • Toward that end it is recommended that the Township begin to prepare a long-range, comprehensive greening program that can be implemented over several years. The program should focus on the following areas identified on the regreening opportunities map, including gateways, corridors, streets and nodes.

GATEWAYS

Gateways are visually prominent areas at the edge of the Township that serve as a transition and entrance. Most often they are viewed from the automobile or train. Many municipalities, such as Radnor Township, enhance gateways with additional landscaping, signage or public art.

The intersection of Lancaster Ave and City Ave provides an opportunity for gateway enhancement.

The gateway into Radnor Township offers an example of how landscaping can enhance the transition between neighboring communities.

The Township has an excellent signage program defining commercial areas. There is an excellent opportunity to enhance these efforts with additional public landscaping. Gateways can be installed by the Township or through partnerships with local businesses and civic organizations. Gateway locations are identified on the re-greening opportunities map, however individual civics may wish to identify additional neighborhood entrances. The Township should also partner with Narberth Borough in establishing joint gateway and corridor improvement projects.

CORRIDORS

Because Lower Merion is primarily an automobile suburb most residents spend a great deal of time driving around the Township. Many of the most heavily traveled corridors are visually unattractive and lack coordinated design or improvements. One of the problems with corridors is that they have developed over time through the actions of many individual parties.

This stretch of Lancaster Avenue is an example of both a corridor and a node problem area. While one side of the street is "decorated" with trees, the other has none.

Lancaster Avenue is an example of a commercial corridor, which would benefit from coordinated planning and improvement. However, many non-commercial parts of Lancaster Avenue are also visually unattractive because residences turn their back on the road and are trying to individually screen cars with landscaping and fencing. The Township could provide planning assistance and fund most, if not all of the landscape improvements. Visual improvements could be coordinated with installation of key trail sections.

Corridor improvements are complex and involve communication with and the participation of multiple parties to be successful. Because of the narrow right-of way of many roads throughout the Township, the majority of corridor improvements will occur on private property. While this is difficult, it is not impossible to accomplish. Priority corridors are identified on the regreening opportunities map.

STREETS

Streets are the local, residential equivalent of corridors. The major issues with streets involve replanting shade trees on private property and the need to install hard or soft surface paths to separate pedestrians from cars. Streets should be planned as a block, rather than on a house-by-house basis, with coordinated streetscape and urban forestry improvements. It is far more practical for new trees to be planted en masse than on an individual basis. The Township should work with civics to identify candidate blocks and secure block-wide cooperation. Priority should be given to areas with less than 30% tree cover as identified on the existing tree cover map.

NODES

Nodes are centralized areas of public activity, such as shopping centers, public schools and downtowns. Nodes are usually visually prominent and would benefit from enhanced public landscaping. As with other areas for regreening throughout the Township improvements will most likely take place on private land. Here the Township can supply coordinated design services and work with local business on funding and installation. Nodes are identified on the regreening opportunities map.

ADDITIONAL GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Support neighborhood organizations with community-based greening projects. Explore ways to provide technical assistance and matching funds. Explore ways to partner with local community groups and local businesses on local greening projects. Consider using Township GIS and GPS resources to assist community groups with conducting tree inventories.
  • Make green infrastructure enhancements a priority in all commercial revitalization projects.

PERMANENTLY
PROTECT INSTITUTIONS AND LARGE PROPERTIES OVER 5-ACRES IN SIZE

  • Work to acquire outright or development rights of identified temporarily protected resources threatened with development. Priority should be given to properties located within the emerald necklace which can be used for active recreation purposes or have significant historic resources.

NATURAL RESOURCE PROTECTION

  • Continue efforts to create a linked open space network throughout the Township through outright purchase or acquisition of easements. Emphasis should be on creating connections between existing parklands and other open spaces, natural resources or cultural amenities.
  • Continue preservation efforts to secure the Mill Creek Corridor and extend environmental efforts to the Schuylkill River and Indian Creek.
  • Work with neighboring municipalities such as Narberth and Upper Merion to create riparian management plans for the Schuylkill River and Indian Creek.

RECREATION RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Implement the 1996 Parks and Recreation Plan as well as the recommendations of individual park master plans.
  • Seek additional funding to implement natural areas improvements to existing and proposed passive recreation areas. Improvements include meadow conversions, reforestation, riverbank stabilization and riparian buffer improvements.

HERITAGE RESOURCE PROTECTION

  • Continue to support the work of Open Space and Historic Resource Conservancies such as the Lower Merion Conservancy and Natural Lands Trust.
  • Purchase or coordinate transfer of threatened historic resources wherever possible. Priority should be given to properties eligible for inclusion on the natural register.
  • Continue to link designated historic resources with the Township GIS and extend mapping to potentially eligible properties.
  • Consider repurposing historic resources such as the Cynwyd Train Station for use as Trail Heads on trail networks.

RECOMMENDED ORDINANCES OR OTHER METHODS
TO PROTECT OPEN SPACE OTHER THAN THROUGH INVESTMENT

The following ordinances should be considered to strengthen existing open space protections.

  • Adopt a recreational fee in lieu ordinance, an impact fee authorized under the Municipalities Planning Code in which new developments are assessed a fee that is applied to a Township fund dedicated to recreation purposes. Explore applying this fund to single-family infill residential, and multi-unit, mixed-use development and new commercial development.
  • For subdivision applications that must conform to the Open Space Preservation District, determine opportunities to receive donations of or to purchase open space and/or trail easements at “bargain sale”.
  • Investigate changing the Open Space Preservation District Ordinance to include all properties over 5-acres developed for residential or mixed-use purposes.
  • Investigate adopting a local open space bond to supplement State and County monies for open space and recreational investment. The support of Lower Merion residents was crucial to the passage of both the Montgomery County Green Fields/Green Towns program and the Pennsylvania Growing Greener II program. A local bond would further support significant open space improvements and could be used to further match other funding programs.
  • Require greens or plazas in growth areas as a condition of higher density development.
  • Investigate establishing a separate Institutional Overlay District, with specific bulk and deign criteria to ensure continued compatibility between institutional and residential uses.
  • Investigate establishing a program with local funding institutions where residents and the Township can attain low-interest loans for the purchase of open space in residential neighborhoods. The Township may consider establishing a grant program to help threatened properties.
  • Amend the natural features code to require all new trees to be a minimum of 3” caliper upon installation, unless otherwise required.
  • Consider requiring dedications for public art in revitalization areas.
  • Link proposed trails with the Township GIS to ensure that trails are constructed through land development.
  • Explore use of the official map to reserve future areas for recreation or open space use.

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