Judge dismisses suit on redevelopment plan: Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, 11/11/05

By Jeff Price

A federal judge has dismissed a community group's challenge to Lower Merion Township's redevelopment plan for Ardmore, a project especially controversial because it threatens to demolish 10 buildings in the historic district.

U.S. District Court Judge Berle Schiller ruled Wednesday that the Save Ardmore Coalition's lawsuit was premature because the township hasn't finalized the plan.

Coalition attorney Robert Sugarman said yesterday that it may not be necessary to go back to court because of "the situation that will be in place in January."

He was referring to Tuesday's election, in which voters picked seven commissioners for the 14-member township Board of Commissioners, only one of whom supported the redevelopment plan - known as Option B - primarily because it could allow property to be taken by eminent domain.

Matthew Comisky, board president, said the election might not have any impact on the current board's effort to "move the process forward." He stressed that the taking of property through eminent domain is not a done deal.

"Some people in the election had indicated that decisions have already been made, and they haven't," he said. Option B's purpose "is to get some creativity and other ideas as to how to continue revitalization."

John Summers, the township's attorney, said the lawsuit has not had an impact on the redevelopment process.

In fact, on the night of Schiller's ruling, consultants explained to a public township planning meeting how an environmental impact statement for a transit center will be drawn up. Its main element will be a new train station. Afterward, residents were able to talk to consultants and submit written comments.

Although the township billed the evening as a chance for public participation, Sugarman said that "no participation was allowed, no information of substance was released, no documents were made available. They didn't even have a definition of the project boundary."

Sugarman said the judge had stressed in his ruling "the importance of meaningful public participation in the continuing planning."

Given the election results, Sugarman said the township should "stop spending money" on the review process.

However, the township will continue to move forward, Comisky said. A request for proposal, a major step in the development process, should be ready for public comment "sometime in December," he said, and ready "to go out to the development world at the end of the first quarter of next year."

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