By Caroline Goldstein
The University held two town hall meetings during the week of Dec. 2 to provide an update on the Design Concept for Lancaster Avenue. The University presented its revised plan to the Radnor Township Board of Commissioners Dec. 3. The board voted to pass the project on to the planning commission.
At the town hall meeting on Dec. 7, Chris Kovolski, assistant to the president for internal and external affairs, presented the revised plan. The University presented the original plan in December 2011.
The revised plan includes changes that the township and neighbors had been asking for. One such change is a proposal for a new ordinance that will allow for a zoning change in the area surrounding the University in order to accommodate for the construction plans.
“A proposal that is this big is going to generate a lot of conversation in the township,” Kovolski said.
Kovolski also addressed concerns about University growth, saying that the University does not have plans to increase enrollment after the addition of new housing.
He compared this project to those that built the residence halls on South Campus and on West Campus, neither of which resulted in an increase in enrollment.
Kovolski said that the University wants “an open and collaborative communicative process” with the University and township community.
The township and neighbors wanted information about the distance of the setbacks of the buildings from the street. Kovolski assured those at the town hall meeting that there would be plenty of space between the street and the proposed buildings.
The height of the buildings, and particularly the parking deck, was of concern to the neighbors and township.
“That’s where the biggest concern is—that we’re building skyscrapers,” Kovolski said.
The parking deck in the plans will be reduced from 65 feet to 38 feet.
The reduction means that the number of levels will go from six to four, with one level underground.
The University will add a level to the Health Services Building parking deck, which will add 69 parking spaces.
Another level will also be added to the St. Augustine Center parking deck, creating 124 additional spaces.
The Health Services Building parking deck will need to be completely rebuilt to make this addition possible; the St. Augustine Center deck will not need to be rebuilt.
The additions to these two parking decks will allow all Main Campus faculty and staff to park on Main Campus.
The plan also calls for a surface-level parking lot behind the Lancaster Avenue buildings, adding 246 parking spaces and possibly eliminating the need for driveways with one main entrance.
A 475-foot-long pedestrian stone bridge at the intersection by the St. Thomas of Villanova Church is also now a part of the revised plan.
With 70 percent of classrooms on the western side of campus, installing the bridge at this location made the most sense, Kovolski said.
The new bridge will connect to the current pedestrian bridge over the R100 Norristown High Speed Line tracks.
It will then extend to the church. The first set of steps leading up to the church will be removed and a large plaza will be constructed.
The intersection here would be expanded to include one lane going into the new housing complex and two lanes going out.
The University first looked into building the bridge at the Ithan Avenue and Lancaster Avenue intersection. Currently, traffic from every direction stops and the crosswalk allows pedestrians 26 seconds to cross.
“The 26-second stop can contribute to traffic backup,” Kovolski said. “Especially when there are few students crossing at the light and the full 26 seconds are unnecessary.”
However, upon further investigation, the University found that the intersection does not lend itself well to a pedestrian bridge.
First, students cross both in a straight line and diagonally, and a bridge could not accommodate both of these options.
A bridge at this location could also cause line of sight problems for drivers on Lancaster Avenue due to the curve of the road.
The University also considered putting the bridge in at the center of the current Main Parking Lot.
In that case, the bridge would connect to Dougherty Hall on Main Campus.
However, for residents living on South Campus, this bridge would not be useful. Kovolski addressed questions from the audience, which was made up primarily of faculty and staff.
Among the questions was one about the timeline for the project.
The parking structures would be built first, possibly in May 2014. This would take about a year.
The residence halls are a two-year project and would be open in 2017.
This would allow current juniors in high school to be the first class to live in the new residence halls.
The University will present in front of the planning commission in early 2013.