Existing Land Use

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INTRODUCTION

The existing land use patterns found throughout a municipality are the result of natural and man made forces acting on the land over long periods of time. Natural forces encompass such elements as topography, water resources, forests, and soil capabilities. Man made elements include transportation facilities, utilities, and land use regulations. All of these factors have been present in varying degrees in shaping the character and land use patterns that are discernible today throughout the township.

In Lower Merion Township the development patterns were largely established during the 1800's, and early 1900*s and reflect the influences of land accessibility and transportation factors. Because of the geographical proximity to Philadelphia, the township first began to develop along the rail and highway transportation corridors particularly Lancaster and Montgomery Avenues. This is where all of the early commercial services could be found, and housing development naturally occurred adjacent to these facilities. Much of this development was before the time of detailed land use regulations, and as a result the most densely utilized portions of the township exist along these particular transportation facilities.

GENERAL LAND USE PATTERNS

Map A-l graphically depicts the generalized land use patterns existing in the township. Several distinct land use relationships are evident from this map. City Line Avenue, Lancaster Avenue, and Montgomery Avenue rorm the major automobile transportation corridors through the township, and almost all of the commercial and industrial facilities in the township can be found directly adjacent to these highways. This type of land development is not unusual, and is characteristic of land patterns formed in association with transportation links. Similar patterns can be found in almost every developed community.

In regard to the commercial corridors it should be noted that these highways date back several hundred years,and of course, have been converted from horse travel to serving automobile traffic. Consequently, much of this development, particularly along Lancaster Avenue, has not been designed to accommodate the demands that automobile traffic generates. As a result, lack of adequate parking is a frequent obstacle to utilization of the commercial facilities. In addition, there is a conglomeration of uncoordinated signage along sections of Lancaster Avenue, which detracts aesthetically from the appearance of the area.

Immediately adjacent to these three major highways are housing developments where the individual lots are smaller than found throughout the remainder of the township. This housing pattern reflects the proximity to Philadelphia; the need for high density housing development; the availability of sewerage facilities that permits high density development; the nearness to community facilities; and the fact that much of this development predates modern zoning regulations. The land in this area is also quite flat without very many natural detriments, which permits high density development. Many of the street designs are also rectangular as opposed to curvilinear which is preferred in today's developments. Also associated with this high density development pattern is the fact that all of the township's multi-family apartment houses are located along these three major highways.

In addition to the above noted high density locations, there are also two other small locations of high density housing patterns existing in the township. These are the villages of Gladwyne and Belmont Hills. Some of the Gladwyne village area predates the Revolutionary War, and the cluster of houses on small lots is typical of settlements dating from that century. The Belmont Hills area also predates the township's zoning regulations and as a result this high density community was built on a very steep slope area, a situation that would not be permitted to this degree under modern zoning ordinances.

The other housing development pattern that can be seen in map A-l is the low density residential development situated in the Gladwyne and Villanova portions of the township. This low density pattern is the result of several interconnected factors. The lack of sewerage facilities throughout most of this area is the dominant factor that demands large-lot development. In addition, the topography in this section of the township, along with some soil development problems, precludes high density housing developments. And the fact that the northern part of the township is furthest from Philadelphia means that it was the last to develop, and consequently was subject to more modern land use regulations and standards. The curvilinear road patterns seen throughout this corner of the township is testimony to the fact that most of this residential development is comparatively new.

Another distinct land use pattern that is evident from map A-l is that most of the community facilities are located in the southern half of the township, where most of the population resides. The one exception to this generalization is the location of passive park areas, which are found along stream beds in the northern segment of the township. This is logical because the demand for acquisition of passive land to protect the environment is a recent social phenomenon, and the grounds best suited for this purpose are situated along streams that usually can not be developed because of the adjacent steep slopes. As a result, most of the active community facilities noted in map A-l are found interspersed within existing neighborhoods in the southern half of the township. These community facilities consist of churches, schools, post offices, fire companies, municipal buildings, cemeteries, and parks and playgrounds.

NARBERTH

It is important to include a brief description of the Borough of Narberth in this report because the borough is wholly confined within the borders of Lower Merion Township. Consequently, the 5,151 people who reside in the borough affect the township, since all Narberth residents must traverse the township to reach other destinations. So while the total 1970 population of Lower Merion was 63,392, the actual number of people in both municipalities combined was 68,543. The number of people residing in Narberth increased by only 42 from 1960 to 1970, probably because the borough is completely developed. Therefore, the population impact on Lower Merion Township has stabilized in terms of total population. Within Narberth's population, however, there may be shifts between various age groups even though the total population remains constant.

It should also be noted that additional facilities beside housing can be found in Narberth. There is a downtown commercial core as well as additional commercial facilities along Montgomery Avenue. These facilities in turn affect demand levels and commercial land utilization factors in Lower Merion. A major park and playground facility adjacent to the municipal complex, which also includes a library, must be considered in any evaluation of recreational areas available throughout the southern end of the township.

EXISTING LAND USE ACREAGE

In 1970 a study was performed by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission indicating the number of acres of land being utilized in Lower Merion Township. This information is presented in Figure A-l.

According to this study, residential land uses 57% of all the average in the township. And within this residential category, single family houses account for 53% of the total. After single family acreage, apartment developments account for the second highest amount of land used for residential purposes. In 1970, about 258 acres were classified in this category. This was closely.followed by 210 acres devoted to two family dwellings.

It is noticeable that only 61 acres or less than %% of the township's area is used for industrial purposes. This is less than typical for a municipality of this size, and indicates that municipal revenues must be generated from other sources in the township. This lack of an industrial base is partially compensated for by the amount of ground area utilized for retail and service purposes. Together, these categories account for 3% of the land area in the township, which is 400 acres. What these figures do not express, is the intensity and quality of development taking place on retail and service facility lands. Obviously the office and retail complexes in the southeastern corner of the township can be considered among the finest in the region, which contribute substantially to the revenue base of the township in excess of the proportionate land area used for these purposes.

Land devoted to educational purposes is also quite substantial in the township. In 1970 about 493 acres were placed in this category, which includes public as well as private educational facilities. When the 493 acres of educational land is added to the 433 acres of cemeteries located in the township, it can be seen that a significant portion of the township's area, 6%, is devoted to institutional uses.

The amount of acres placed in recreational uses, 537 acres, is surprisingly high for a township that traces its development patterns back several hundred years. During the development of older communities there often was a noticeable lack of emphasis on acquiring recreation and open space lands, and as these communities became developed, the opportunity for setting aside recreation land was often lost. The fact that 3% of Lower Merlon's land area is today in recreational lands is fortunate, and provides an excellent base to build upon.

The last two categories in Figure A-l consist of agricultural and undeveloped lands. Together these two uses contain 3,098 acres, which is 21% of the total township area. These figures are based on the assumption that most of the ground around residential estates is vacant, and that only the house and immediate yard areas are considered residential. Consequently, these two figures appear abnormally high, since the township is for practical purposes fully developed. The implication contained in these figures is that some additional housing will be developed, and that such residential lots will be created from the further subdivision of existing estates.

 

Figure A-1

EXISTING LAND USE 1970

 

 
ACRES
PERCENT
RESIDENTIAL
  Single Family
8,280
53%
  Two Family
210
01%
  Townhouses
16
--
  Apartments
258
02%
  Group Quarters
93
01%
  Hotels
8
--
 

Sub Total

8,865
57%
 
INDUSTRIAL
61
--
 
TRANSPORTATION
1,619
 
 
UTILITIES & COMMUNICATIONS
27
--
 
RETAIL AND WHOLESALE
148
01%
 
SERVICES    
  Personal
12
--
  Professional
11
--
  Health Facilities
73
01%
  Other
156
01%
 
Sub Total
252
02%
 
EDUCATION
493
03%
 
CEMETERIES
433
03%
 
RECREATION
537
03%
 
AGRICULTURE
222
02%
 
UNDEVELOPED
2,876
19%
 
GRAND TOTAL
15,533
100%

SOURCE: Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, 1970 Land Use File, 8/21/74. Adjusted by Consultant.

In 1977 the township also received a study of existing land use from the Montgomery County Tax Assessor's Office. This study is a computerized analysis of land use as detailed for the purpose of updating tax assessments throughout the county. The data is segmented into categories that are different from that presented in Figure A-1, so that an exact correlation between the two studies is not possible. Comparability between the studies is also not precisely possible because the Montgomery County study was based on less total acres assigned to the township. The explanation probably lies in the fact that the county study was devised for tax purposes, and excludes land used for streets. The DVRPC study carries a land use category called Transportation, which accounts for a large amount of the difference in total acreage between the two studies. Nevertheless, the statistics presented by Montgomery County as shown in Figure A-2 are probably more exact than the DVRPC results, since the county study was more recent and was more thoroughly detailed.

Figure A-2 indicates that 65% of the township is in residential usage, compared to 57% presented in Figure A-1. The bulk of the residential land area, 51%, is in the single family category. Basically, both studies clarify the fact that Lower Merion is predominantly a single family community, followed by duplexes, two family dwellings and apartments.

Commercial land uses in Figure A-2 amount to 6% of the township's area, which normally would be rather high except for the fact that this usage is counter balanced by the almost non-existance of industrial land areas. Both studies confirm that only about 55 to 61 acres are being used for industrial purposes, which means there is no significant industrial tax base in the township.

Both studies also confirm the finding that about 400 acres or 3% of the township's area is devoted to cemeteries, almost all of which are located along Belmont Avenue. Institutional uses, meaning churches, hospitals, nursing homes, etc., show up in the county study as consuming almost 600 acres or 5% of the township's area. Virtually all of this land is tax exempt, as is the next category, schools. Educational facilities in Lower Merion use almost 500 acres of land, which is 4% of the total township area. According to the county study, governmental facilities also use another 612 acres, which is tax exempt. Most of this land is in the form of parks and recreation facilities.

Perhaps the most interesting feature in Figure A-2 is the delineation of vacant land by zoning district. There are 791 vacant parcels of residential land, totaling 1,421 acres. The number of large acreage land holdings are spread over relatively few parcels, whereas there are a great number of parcels consisting of small lots. For instance, there are 232 parcels (29% of all vacant parcels) each of which are less than 10,000 square feet in size, but they add up to only 30 acres in total, which is 2% of all vacant residential land. On the other hand there are 128 parcels each of which are 2 acres or larger, and which total 1,043 acres or 73% of the vacant residential land. And almost 50% of all undeveloped residential land is in parcels of 2 to 20 acres in size.

On the surface, these figures indicate that a potential exists for a great deal more subdivision and homebuilding to take place in Lower Merion. However, map A-1l indicates that most of the large lot vacant land holdings are situated in the Gladwyne area. Most of this part of the township is zoned for 90,000 square foot lots, and in addition this area contains lands that are environmentally sensitive and hence unsuitable for development. If all of the suitable undeveloped lands were developed, there would be approximately 1,000 new units added to the township, and half of these would be multi-family dwellings.

 

Figure A-2

EXISTING LAND USE
FOR TAX PURPOSES 1977

 

 
NO. OF PARCELS
ACRES
PERCENT
RESIDENTIAL
 

Single Family

11,421
6,517
51%
 

Two Family & Duplex

1,935
168
1%
 

Townhouses

326
14
--
 

Apartments

756
83
1%
 

Group Quarters

9
.1
--
 

Res. & Commercial

118
59
1%
 

Single Family:

   

Under 5 acres

636
977
8%
   

5 to 10 acres

23
155
1%
   

10 to 20 acres

5
70
1%
   

20 to 50 acres

2
42
--
   

Over 50 acres

1
52
1%
   
Sub Total
15,232
8,221
65%
 
COMMERCIAL
 

Retail Stores

234
41
--
 

Retail & Office

201
24
--
 

Other Retail

446
730
6%
   
Sub Total
881
795
6%
 
INDUSTRIAL
36
55
--
 
CEMETERIES
13
384
3%
INSTITUTIONAL
139
595
5%
UTILITIES
61
118
1%
EDUCATION
80
500
4%
GOV'T & MISC.
148
612
5%
 
VACANT BY ZONE
 

Residential

   

Under 5,000 S.F.

116
11
--
   

5,001 to 10,000 S.F.

116
19
--
   

10,001 to 20,000 S.F.

110
41
--
   

20,001 to 30,000 S.F.

84
52
--
   

30,001 to 60,000 S.F.

192
182
1%
   

60,001 to 87,120 S.F.

45
73
--
   

2 to 4.9 acres

69
200
2%
   

5 to 9.9 acres

29
202
2%
   

10 to 19.9 acres

20
272
2%
   

20 to 29.9 acres

4
91
1%
   

30 to 49.9 acres

5
190
2%
   

Over 50 acres

1
88
1%
   
Sub Total
791
1,421
11%
 
 

Commercial

30
36
--
 
 

Industrial

2
6
--
   
Total Vacant
823
1,463
11%
 
   
GRAND TOTAL
17,413
12,743
100%

SOURCE: Montgomery County Tax Assessor's Office, Land Use Classification, February 7, 1977. Adjusted by Consultant.

RESIDENTIAL DENSITIES

Since Lower Merion is essentially fully developed, and since more than half of the township's land area is in residential uses, it is important to clarify the various residential density ranges occurring in all areas of the township. This has been done in Map A-2 and Figure A-3. Figure A-3 the ten existing residential zoning districts are set forth and placed in categories ranging from low density to high density. These densities range from less than half of a dwelling unit per acre to almost 17.4 units per acre.

A comparison of this data with Map.A-2 indicates that the high density residential areas mostly occur adjacent to the major transportation arteries and commercial areas. Medium high densities are generally confined to the area south of Montgomery Avenue and north of Belmont Hills. From this demarcation line medium density housing progresses northward and changes into low density housing in the Gladwyne area.

These patterns indicate that the township permits a considerable range of housing densities, and that geographically the placement of the densities corresponds to the availability of support facilities and the constraints of natural features. Churches, schools, transportation, community sewers, and retail services are heavily concentrated in the southern portion of the township, where they are available to serve the majority of the residents.

 

Figure A-3

ZONING ORDINANCE SUMMARY
RESIDENTIAL DENSITIES

 

ZONE DENSITY
CATEGORY
MIN.
LOT
SIZE
UNIT1
SPER
ACRE

RAA Low
90,000 S.F.
0.4
RA Low
45,000
0.8
R-l Medium
30,000
1.2
R-2 Medium
18,000
2.0
R-3 Med. High
10,000
3.7
R-4 Med. High
6,000
6.1
R-5 Med. High
5,000
7.4
R-6 High
3,000
12.3
R-6A High
2,500
17.4
R-7 High
2,500
17.4

1Single family densities based on net square footage after deleting 15% of each acre for streets and misc. (43,560 S.F. - 6,534 = 37,026 S.F.)

BRYN MAWR AND ARDMORE RETAIL LOCATIONS

The highest intensity of retail activities occurs along Lancaster and Montgomery Avenues. For descriptive purposes, the retail centers of Bryn Mawr and Ardmore can be categorized as central business districts. In Bryn Mawr and sections of Ardmore, the second and third floors above retail stores contain apartments. Immediately behind the retail stores in most cases are twin houses.

The Bryn Mawr retail area is almost entirely confined to the frontage along Lancaster Avenue. In Ardmore, retail uses front on Lancaster Avenue and also extend along several streets that are perpendicular to Lancaster Avenue. Ardmore also contains the separate shopping area known as Suburban Square.

The Ardmore retail area has a sufficient number of off street parking locations. The parking situation in Bryn Mawr is not adequate, and the subject has been under intensive study. It is important to obtain the maximum number of parking spaces in Bryn Mawr in order to insure the continued vitality of commercial services to township residents.