This Plan sets forth an ambitious agenda for the preservation and enhancement of open spaces, cultural resources and natural features over the next decade for the Township of Lower Merion. Originally, this Plan was prepared to update the Township’s 1995 Open Space Plan and to satisfy the planning requirements under the Montgomery County Open Space Program, of which Lower Merion is eligible for over $3 million dollars.
Between April 2004 and October 2004 an Open Space Plan Committee, comprised of elected officials, open space stakeholders, Township staff and consultants from Natural Lands Trust and Campbell Thomas and Company evaluated the Township’s 1995 Open Space Plan and prepared new goals and objectives.
A Draft Plan was subsequently submitted to the Montgomery County Open Space Board for review. Comments were received in March of 2005. This Plan addresses those comments and presents an Open Space Plan that expands upon its original scope and will eventually serve as an Open Space Element of the Township’s new Comprehensive Plan.
Toward that end, the Plan presents a comprehensive look at the Township’s entire open space fabric, including many spaces traditionally considered as open space such as parks, but also considering many of the other non-traditional contributing open spaces, such as institutions and unused rail lines. The Plan considers open space issues at the neighborhood, Township and regional scale.
This Plan is intended to be thorough, yet accessible. It contains approximately 125 pages of text, charts, maps and photographs detailing existing resources and surrounding opportunities. This Plan was written for policy makers and the general public alike. It is hoped that the Plan will help all parties better understand the complex open space issues and to visualize the exciting open space opportunities facing the Township.
The Plan is divided into three core areas: background, inventory and analysis and recommendations, consisting of a total of 13 separate chapters.
The background section (chapters 1- Introduction, 2- Open Space Audit, 3- Community Profile and 4- Goals and Objectives) frames the open space issues currently facing the Township, summarizes past planning initiatives, details population, housing and economic data and presents goals to meet these challenges.
The inventory and analysis section (chapters 5- Inventory of Existing Protected Lands, 6- Inventory of Vulnerable Resources, 7- Inventory of Potential Open Space Linkages, 8- Evaluation of Recreational Resources, 9- Analysis of Green Infrastructure, 10- Evaluation of Open Space Needs and 11- Relationship to State, Regional, and Abutting Municipal Plans) serves as the guts of the Plan and catalogs the vast inventory of open space resources throughout the Township and region, including parks, institutions, and potential trail connections. This section also contains an evaluation on the Township’s green infrastructure, which includes street trees and public landscapes. These sections include several detailed maps indicating resource locations as well as potential planning opportunities.
The final section, recommendations (chapters 12- Recommendations and 13- Implementation) presents recommendations for immediate and long-range projects, ordinance changes and other strategies for meeting community goals and identified open space, natural feature and heritage resource preservation. The Plan also includes a detailed implementation matrix, which identifies sources of funding and technical assistance.
Key chapters include:
THE COMMUNITY PROFILE
This is the longest chapter of the report and presents a comprehensive land use analysis, demographic profile and a general economic forecast of the Township. The detailed analysis presented in this section was prepared using the Township’s Geographic Information System to evaluate parcel and census tract based data. For convenience each of the 16 census tracts in the Township was assigned a geographic name such as Bala, East Bryn Mawr or Gladwyne, to help readers ‘see’ the corresponding data. The land use analysis is summarized on the Land Use Distribution Chart and the Land Use Distribution Map.
The demographic and housing data was summarized from a much longer Community Profile that was prepared for the new Comprehensive Plan. This section indicates relevant open space demographic data, including population density, housing type and income. Information is presented in both tabular and map format with individual census tracts colored according to ranges of data.
Finally, this section contains a brief analysis of growth projections, which is summarized on the Growth Areas Map.
INVENTORY OF PROTECTED LANDS
In many ways this is the heart of the open space plan and this section explains and indicates the different types of open space throughout the Township. This section breaks open space into two broad categories, permanently protected (publicly owned lands) and temporarily protected lands that currently contribute to the open space character of the Township, like the Philadelphia Country Club or West Laurel Hill Cemetery, that could be privately developed. This section explains the importance of each type and different protection measures available. This section contains two key maps, Permanently Protected Inventory and Temporarily Protected Inventory.
INVENTORY OF POTENTIAL OPEN SPACE LINKAGES
This is probably the most exciting section of the Plan. This section explains what open space linkages are as well as benefits and potential issues. This section examines existing Township conditions and presents a broad analysis of trails throughout the region, particularly in Montgomery County. Both intramunicipal (connecting open spaces within the Township and intermunicipal trails connecting Lower Merion to the regional trail network) are explored. The section concludes by presenting opportunities for constructing a multi-use trail along the entire 7-mile Schuylkill riverfront in Lower Merion and linking the proposed trail from the Art Museum in Philadelphia to Valley Forge National Park in Upper Merion. Additionally, this section explores the possibility of creating a multi-use trail along the vacated portion of the R-6 line from Cynwyd Station to Manayunk. Key findings are summarized on the Potential Open Space Linkages Map.
RECOMMENDATIONS / IMPLEMENTATION
These two chapters summarize and prioritize what the Township can do to preserve and enhance open spaces, natural features and cultural resources. The recommendations section includes potential projects, such as the Schuylkill River Trail or creating pocket parks in developed areas, potential ordinance amendments such as extending the Open Space Preservation District to all properties 5 acres and greater used for residential purposes and organizational changes such as creating a Community Greening Advocate to pursue and coordinate green infrastructure improvements. The recommendations section includes detailed graphics showing the potential Schuylkill River Trail.
The implementation section breaks the recommendations in to High and Medium Priority projects and details funding opportunities, sources of technical assistance and projected phasing.
ABOUT THE MAPS
This Plan contains over 25 different maps showing a variety of different open space information for the Township and the region. Because of its large size and geographic orientation, Lower Merion Township is a challenge to represent cartographically. For years, planners have adjusted for this by turning the Township on its side; approximately 30 degrees from true north, to show as large an image on the printed page as possible. This is way that most people have come to view the Township.
The majority of maps contained within this report are oriented north and make up for their smaller image size by utilizing a dark background and saturated colors to depict information.
This graphic convention serves a two-fold purpose. First high contrast maps avoid the necessity of including awkward, oversized fold out maps and second the maps are ideally suited for more detailed viewing on the web.
Finally, the majority of the maps were prepared using parcel-based data from the Township GIS. Major roads and landmarks are included to orient viewers, but specific addresses and smaller streets have been purposely left out. The intent is to allow Township wide analysis of open space for preservation without presenting a road map for potential developers.
Linkages. this is an example of a railroad bridge which could one day connect Lower Merion with Philadelphia via a recreational trail.
Chapter 1 - Introduction