May 19, 2019
IT APPEARS SPRING has arrived just in time for summer. Finally, some warmer, less soggy weather arrives just in time for Memorial Day. Also, coming is Primary Election Day (see below) and the County has new voting machines. Other high-notes include some movement in the land development aspect of the proposed new middle school. The adoption of a new Zoning Code remains the # 1 initiative of the Board and we are proceeding carefully. Hopefully, this report will bring you up to date.
NO CHADS BUT THERE IS PAPER. When you go to the polls on Tuesday, May 21, you will discover that Montgomery County has a new voter-marked paper ballot system with a verifiable paper trail that will be in place for the May 2019 primary election. The new system will replace the electronic push-button voting machines the County purchased in 1996 which were nearing the end of their useful life. The old machines also did not meet the state mandate for counties to have a voting system with a verifiable paper trail in place for the 2020 Presidential election. With the new system, most voters will use a pen to fill out a ballot and have an opportunity to check it for accuracy before submitting it to a scanner that tabulate the votes and keep the ballot in a secure container for audits or recounts. It really is quite simple, but you might want to plan on a little extra time at the polls in that anything new requires adjustment.
NOT THE TWILIGHT ZONE. When we started the multi-year process of adopting a new Zoning Code to align with the 2016 Comprehensive Pan, we knew this was a daunting task. The first draft of the new Code from our consultants (DPZ Associates) was presented in October 2018. Since then there has been approximately 26 different public forums plus various meetings with Civic Associations, property owners other stakeholders and the 14 Commissioners have each attended various meetings. We have received over 500 substantive suggestions and questions all of which are well thought-out. This comes as no surprise – this is Lower Merion. As a result, we have adjusted our schedule for adoptions and plan to advertise the new Code as of July 31, 2019 with the intent to adopt on September 18, 2019. Recently released were revisions to Articles III, IV, V and XI which deal with Form, Bulk Area Standards, Uses, Processes and Non-Conforming Uses. The specifics can be found on the Township website (too much to detail in this email which is probably too long already) and please do not hesitate to contact me if there are any questions or comments.
IT IS WORTH SUSTAINING - THE ENVIRONMENT. In October 2018, the Fourth National Climate Assessment reported that, “Maintaining functioning, sustainable communities in the face of climate change requires effective adaptation strategies that anticipate and buffer impacts, while also enabling communities to capitalize upon new opportunities.” Many municipalities have developed plans to mitigate climate effects and plan for efficient investments in sustainable development. Lower Merion is preparing such strategies. In 1985 we created the Environmental Advisory Board (EAC) to provide environmental advice and have since adopted a number of energy savings programs. On May 3, 2019, a Resolution was adopted directing the EAC to provide cost-benefit analyses to reduce our carbon footprint and use cleaner energy and reduce solid waste. We have already engaged a consultant who will be implementing a program to change our street lights to energy saving LED illumination. Presently, we change 1500 bulbs a year the mere savings in man hours by longer lasting, more efficient lighting will result in a significant savings in dollars and energy. Add this to our new energy supplier which, with 100% green energy projects a total savings of $209,008/year.
SQUARE PEG IN ROUND HOLE. The School District (LMSD) is charged with the responsibility of educating our children and I agree with their assessment that a new middle school is necessary. Unfortunately, notwithstanding considerable efforts, we were unable to convince the powers-to-be so that the school could be constructed on the St. Charles lot in the eastern part of the Township (where most the students reside) which is for sale. As a result, the LMSD selected the 22 acre lot at 1860 Montgomery Ave. formerly part of the Clairemont Farm and later purchased by Morris L. Clothier. The grand mansion (designed by Horace Trumbauer) was later used by Northeastern Christian College and named “Boone Hall (after Pat Boone) and in 1994 it was acquired by the Islamic Foundation and fallen into disrepair. The 22 acre lot will be cleared and to the degree possible leveled. There have been efforts made to preserve some of the historic features albeit not enough for some. From a land use perspective – which is a BOC responsibility - we have required installation of sidewalks to increase walkability and based upon traffic studies will install new signals (provided PennDot approves) and will install traffic calming measures to limit possible cut-through travel on the surrounding roads. The site is significantly sloped and thus fields will be located on near-by properties which also present issues of walkability and historic preservation. Detailed information is available on the Township and LMSD websites. A copy of the latest sketch is attached.
BUMP IN THE ROAD. Ask any Commissioner the number 1 complaint they receive and all will tell you it is traffic and speeding in neighborhoods. While Pennsylvania remains the only State in the Union that does not allow local use of radar, I along with Commissioners of other townships have been pressing Harrisburg for a change, in LM we have recently enacted an Ordinance to allow speed humps in certain locations. First, only streets where the minimum length between intersections is 1,000 feet qualify. Next, petitions with at least 80% of the households on the affected street need consent. There are also requirements of the number of vehicles (1,000/day) and average speeds. An area is the evaluated with a ranking system which includes proximity to schools, history of traffic accidents. Currently under consideration is River Road, which at times is like the Indy speedway and others a parking lot.
I’LL TAKE LM TRIVA FOR 100. This data will not make you the life of the party, but for those who like numbers: In 2017 we earned $895,841 from parking meters and that declined to $774,231 in 2018. Similarly ticket revenues declined from $632,112 to $523,847. Contributing to this decline was construction at Suburban Square and the closure of the Cricket and Coulter Ave parking. Plus, the use the Parkmobile cell phone payment system allowed residents to avoid tickets. We did earn $70,097 from that system. We also discard a lot of junk. In 2018, we had 2,373 tons of commingled recyclables and 2,602 tons of paper. That went along with 258 tons of metal, 74 tons of tires, 31 tons of computers, monitors and TVs and 1,901 tons of brush and leaf bags. The total refuse collected at residential properties: 15,642 tons.
CLOSING COMMENT. Recently, I have had two opportunities to acknowledge one of my colleagues. Cheryl Gelber served as Commissioner for 15 years before having to step down due to her battle with Parkinsons. While elected by Ward 5, Cheryl understood that she served the entire Township and she did so with integrity and dignity. If you are not captured by Game of Thrones, click on the Township website for last Wednesday’s honor of Cheryl. It is a feel good moment where current and former Commissioners tried the say thanks.
Hope to see you at the polls.
Daniel S. Bernheim
Lower Merion Township Commissioner, Ward 1
President Board Of Commissioners