Commissioner's Reports - Jan. 2019

Ward 3, Commissioner McKeon: Read here

Ward 2, Commissioner Grimes: Read here



January 23, 2019 

            WITH 2108 in the rear view mirror (and unfortunately the Eagles too), we look forward to an eventful 2019.  On the horizon is the adoption of a new Zoning Code designed to adjust to our changing community and to upgrade and create a more user friendly document and land use process.  With a target date for adoption of July 31, 2019 and no less than 26 planned public events, the new Code will dominate the Board’s activities for the next 6-7 months.  Inevitably, it will not be possible to get everybody’s view into the final product, but anybody who wishes to express a view will have it considered before there is a final product.  The Zoning Code will be featured in this and upcoming Reports.  Also, we will be preparing a synopsis of the Code for an easier review to be posted on the Township website. 

            We also will continue working on some other major initiatives such as stemming the systemic problem of traffic speeding with a new ordinance for the placement of speed bumps. We will continue to finance small infra-structure projects which include identifying areas for sidewalks, especially around schools to enhance walkability.  We continue to follow recommendations to enhance Police and Community Relationswith a sold out workshop on January 30 (and another to follow). Plus, we have a number of environmentally sensitive itemswhich include replacing street lights with LEDs, reduction in other electric consumption, acquiring hybrid vehicles and managing our stormwater runoff.


The Township hired the leading consultants in form-based zoning and after a year they produced a draft Zoning Code (available on the Township website) revising our existing Code.  The concept, taken from our Comprehensive Plan is to focus upon lot-by-lot changes as opposed to larger land subdivisions. The new Code is oriented toward achieving a significantly smaller ultimate population than currently achievable.  The new Code will present an ultimate population closer to the existing population based upon neighborhood preservation, quality infill and targeted redevelopment.

The new Code is divided into 11 sections.  Those inclined to read it may wish to focus upon:   

Article 3: General Districts.  This section establishes general form standards for all districts including height, lot occupation, frontage, projections, fences and architectural standards.

Article 4: District Specific Standards.  This contains the bulk, area and form standards.

Article 5: Uses. This establishes uses and limited process for exceptions

Article 6: Special Districts.

Article 8: Parking.  Sets parking standards for various districts

On January 23, 2019, the Board will be addressing issues regarding Low Density Residential ZoningAttached to this email is a chart converting the old 8 residential designations into 5 newly defined sections.  The Township is comprised of 75% single family residential property. Ward 1 is mostly LDR2 with areas near Gladwyne as LDR1 and areas near Montgomery Ave LDR3.  


For the 8th straight year, the Board has passed a budget without raising taxes and without sacrificing the quality of services.   In large part, due to an increase in business tax collections and a health insurance rebate, revenues for 2018 were 5.2% higher than budget. This left us with a $20M General Fund reserve.  2019 projects revenues at $64.3M and expenses of $68.2M.  This will create a deficit of $3.9M and an ending fund balance of $16.1M, which remains above the fund balance policy of 15% of operating costs.  

Where does the money go:

           Public Safety (police / fire)   41.7%              $ 28.4M

            Debt Service                           14.3%              $ 9.75M

            Public Works                          13.6%              $   9.3M

            Gen Gov                                  12.0%              $ 8.17M

            Libraries                                 6.9%               $ 4.67M

            B&P                                        6.0%               $ 4.10M

            Parks & Rec                            5.5%               $ 3.74M

Almost 50% of our revenue is based upon real estate taxes with the other large sources being Business Tax (17.5%), Real Estate Transfer Tax (6.4%) and Licenses & Permits (            9.9%). While there has been no reassessment of property values in over a decade, the actual values have been on a roller coaster in the past 10 years:

Year                Assessed Value                       Market Value

2009                $7.5B                                      $13.4B

2012                $7.4B                                      $11.6B

2019                $7.65B                                    $14.9B

The average single family home in LM has an assessed value of $359,000 and pays Township taxes in the amount of $1,504 or $125/month.  Township taxes are 11.4% of local taxes.  County taxes would stand at $1,382 (10.5%) and School taxes at $10,320 (78.1%). 

We also approved our Capital Improvement Program which lists $34.3M in projects of which $16.4M form existing funding and new financing.  The remainder is from other grants. Some of the major projects include:

                    City Ave Transportation Services Improvement       $5.65M

                        Union Ave Bridge                                                      $4.68M

                        Belmont/Rock Hill Rd                                               $3.78M

                        Rotomilling and repaving                                          $1.50M

                        Facilities Improvements                                            $864K

                        Fire Apparatus                                                                        $800K


Anybody who travels Belmont Ave in rush hour knows that from the Expressway toward Bala Cynwyd (either direction) can be a problem.  For several years the PennDot has placed on the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) plans to dedicate funds for the improvement of this area.  In order to move the process, however, the Township needs to pay for the engineering costs (in excess of $3M).  The original plan was for 5 lanes and did not include widening the Suffolk-Northern railroad bridge.  Absent expanding the bridge (which is 2 lanes) –what was the point?  There would only be a bottle neck.  The plans have changed (and 5 lanes was too many) and we will be funding the design – including the bridge.  It is our anticipation this will move the project up on the TIP (or so we have been told) and will improve this congested area.


In mid-February the Gladwyne Acme will go dark.  According to Acme, the store was not profitable.  There remains 2 years on the lease and at the moment there are no plans for what is next.  On January 22, 2019 the Gladwyne Civic held a meeting at the St. Christopher’s Church to discuss this community concern.  Approximately 200 people attended this event.  There have been a number of rumors of future plans ranging from a Hooters to a high-rise.  I have had the opportunity to speak with the owners of the property who share our disappointment in Acme’s decision (and not to upgrade during their leasehold) and as the lease permits will look for a tenant compatible to the community.  While this is private property, we will do what we can to influence the use of the property to fit within the Gladwyne Village mold – and hopefully another supermarket will recognize that if they build it – we will come.


As we move forward with the new zoning process, those who wish to be involved or voice their opinions or concerns should not hesitate to communicate though the Penn Valley or Gladwyne Civic Associations or directly to me.  Too much emphasis cannot be placed upon the importance of having the community’s input into this process.  We are literally re-writing the law of the land and seek to do our best to maintain that which attracts all of us to live here.


Daniel S. Bernheim

Lower Merion Township Commissioner, Ward 1

President Board of Commissioners