March 26, 2017
AS THE FIRST QUARTER of 2017 is about to pass, it is time to catch-up on some Township activities. Many of us are still shocked, bewildered, baffled or, possibly, elated (really?) in what is going on in the national scene. But whatever you larger politics may be regarding that which emanates from Washington, we are effectively pursuing an aggressive agenda locally from Ardmore.
LAW OF THE LAND. One of the most important take-aways from the Comprehensive Plan was the need to update our Zoning Code. The Code was originally drafted in 1927 (Babe Ruth was playing baseball) and has had numerous modifications since. The Code was designed such that if built out as permitted, the population of the Township would exceed 90,000. Our population has held steady at 59,000, but we have changed and are seeking a significantly smaller ultimate population with a Code that incorporates design standards to ensure new development is either consistent in form with prevailing patterns or visions of the Comprehensive Plan. To assist in this process we have engaged top rated consultants (DPZ Partners) from Florida who literally wrote the book on formed based zoning. Formed based zoning is a concept which incorporates not merely words into our Code but diagrams to demonstrate, height, density, setbacks and alike. This process has just begun and it is anticipated it will take from start to finish 18 months. A Civic Engagement Committee of citizens from different parts of the township and with different interests (residential, commercial, industrial) will become an integral part of communicating the progress. This clearly will be one of the largest undertakings of the Board with impact for years to come.
WHAT’S ALL THE NOISE ABOUT. For over a year we have been trying to update our Noise Ordinance. We have had more hearings than the recently failed attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act. This is a true exercise proving nothing is easy. The hard part has been to determine start and stop times for noise and the appropriate decibel levels in residential and non-residential neighborhoods. For example if “start time” is 8:00 a.m., commercial establishments are concerned that delivers will be too late or trucks will add to already congested traffic. Curtailing landscaping by 6:00 p.m. was suggested by some and seemed reasonable to stop the flood of noise from landscapers, but did not take into consideration those who care for their own property when they return from work. The latest iteration of the proposed Ordinance can be found on the Township website. The goal is to be sensitive to residents, not make the Ordinance too complicated that it cannot be enforced and recognize that each expert has advised us that it is unlikely we get it right the first time (although we will try) and we can always make adjustments.
SURF’S UP. Given that the most intense storms in the last 72 years have been in the last 10, it is likely you have witnesses water rushing down some street at a remarkable pace. The problem created by storm water is that increased velocity erodes properties, causes flooding and transports pollutants to our rivers and streams. In order to comply with the Federal Clean Water Act, which prohibits the discharge of pollutants, Pennsylvania’s DEP has a program known as MS4 which requires the submission of a plan to address the issue and for issuance of permits only where there is compliance. In order to help in our response to the MS4 requirements, we recently engaged engineers who specialize in such projects. This too is one of those long range impact events. It has already been estimated that we may incur $350,000 to $450,000 more in expenses per year to be compliant. If we fail to do so, that sum will – if you excuse me - seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the costs from erosion and pollutants. Once we identify that which needs to be addressed, we will address the method for payment of the costs.
WHAT’S THE RUSH. One of the most systemic and complained about problems in the Township is traffic safety – namely speeding. Zoom. People fly by in our Township as if speed signs are merely suggestions. Along with the traffic Safety Department, an Ad Hoc Committee of Commissioners has been created to address this issue. We are examining everything from education to traffic calming devises, including the dreaded speed humps. In the end it is merely a matter of slowing down to enhance safety, in large part, for our kids.
SHOW ME THE MONEY. The Township’s review of year-end 2016 showed financial strength. Revenues were actually $3.3M ahead of budget and $1.4M greater than the prior year. For the most part this was due to business tax collections. On the other side of the ledger (this is a little hard to follow), expenditures were $3.8M or 6.4% greater than the prior year. That however, is due to the fact that $2.5M was used from the General Fund for Capital Improvement Projects. Since we had more on balance than the upper end of our policy, rather than borrow funds for those projects, we paid from our General Fund account. This helps decrease debt and debt service, but as a matter of accounting increases our expenses. If the $2.5M is not counted in that fashion, the actual expenditures were only $1.3M higher than 2015 or 2.2%
THIS IS A GOOD READ. Finally, after a series of delays, the Gladwyne Library reopened on March 25. This building has been part of the Gladwyne Community since 1931 and was in need of a make-over. The addition of a youth room, remodeling of the children’s room, updating the bathrooms and an ADA compliant elevator are some to the key improvements. Many were instrumental in this project and funding was enhanced by a Keystone grant which helped pay for the elevator. Equally uplifting is that a similar grant was just procured for the last library to be remodeled, the Belmont Hills Library.
FINALLY, with my NCAA bracket in shambles (I really thought Middle Tennessee had a shot), I leave you with my prediction for the Fightin Phils. Contrary to the nasty comments by that unnamed portly gentleman from New Jersey who trashed the Phils and their fans, I predict their run for the pennant will have more traction than his run for the White House. As always, comments and questions are welcome.
Daniel S. Bernheim
Lower Merion Township Commissioner, Ward 1
President Board of Commissioners