New Bala Cynwyd Apartments ‘A Brilliant Project,’ Commissioner Says

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Lower Merion commissioners overwhelmingly favored plans for a new apartment complex, voting 9-1 last week to approve tentative sketch plans.

Lower Merion commissioners approved a tentative sketch plan last week for a 284-unit apartment complex that Commissioner Philip Rosenzweig called, in many respects, “a brilliant project.”

Nolen Properties is proposing to build a 284-unit, 11-story apartment complex at 335 Righters Ferry Road in Bala Cynwyd.  The property will consist of two buildings, separated by a swimming pool, as well as a landscaped area and large public gathering space.

The land is less than half a mile from the former Connelly Containers site at 600 Righters Ferry Road, where O’Neill Properties plans to build a 593-unit apartment complex. That project, years in the making, also had its tentative sketch plan approved last week—though commissioners were decidedly more enthusiastic about the Nolen Properties project.

Nolen Properties’ 11-story building, to be built at 335 Righters Ferry Road, will be one of the first properties built under the new City Avenue zoning ordinance and “is really remarkable for how much open space it preserves,” said Commissioner George Manos. With 284 units and 438 parking spaces, “not a single car will be parked on the surface,” he added.

The idea is an “exciting, beautiful plan that does all the right things with respect to the site” Rosenzweig said.

While commissioners voiced concerns about traffic, alternative access points for the site, and the way the building is facing, the board on the whole supported the project, voting 9-1 to pass the tentative sketch plan.

“There’s no doubt we will be contending with some challenging issues, as we would with any project of this scope,” Rosenzweig said. “But the applicant is to be commended once again for really coming forward with an exciting, beautiful plan that does all the right things with respect to the site.”


Apartment building will be first step in City Avenue zoning project

By Carolyn Davis, Inquirer Staff Writer

Posted: March 06, 2013

Most of the lot at 335 Righters Ferry Rd. in Bala Cynwyd doesn’t look like much, with its tangle of trees and weeds on hilly ground. But to Lower Merion Township officials, it is the beginning of turning the unremarkable and unwalkable area around City Avenue into a pedestrian’s paradise.

The township’s Planning Committee on Monday night heard an initial presentation from Nolen Properties to construct an 11-story apartment building on the Righters Ferry site, bounded by Monument Road, Belmont Avenue, and St. Asaphs Road.

It is the first project to flow out of the City Avenue zoning project, meant to make one of the township’s major commercial corridors, from I-76 to Conshohocken State Road, an appealing place to live and work – and to ease traffic congestion that swells during rush hours.

The committee unanimously recommended that the Board of Commissioners approve the project’s sketch plan.

“It’s exactly the kind of project we hoped for in terms of bringing more people to live in the district,” said Angela Murray, assistant director of building and planning.

“There’s really no place for young people in their 20s and 30s to live, so we’re seeing this as a real opportunity to provide housing for young people who aren’t ready to buy houses.”

City Avenue separates Lower Merion from Philadelphia. While the jurisdictions coordinated on rezoning the area through the regional City Avenue Special Services District – which runs from I-76 to Lancaster Avenue – each is making its own effort on its side of the road.

Philadelphia may be further along in making City Avenue more attractive and walker-friendly, with wider sidewalks and fewer parking lots around new construction.

The span of City Avenue that Lower Merion is rezoning goes from the expressway to Conshohocken State Road, then skips over to Bala Avenue, and is divided into three distinct areas.

The Regional Center Area, bounded by I-76 and Belmont, is about walkable commercial and residential development.

The Bala Cynwyd Retail area runs from Belmont to Conshohocken State Road and features the Bala Cynwyd Shopping Center. This chunk’s mission is to preserve the shopping center as a place where residents can buy groceries, get their shoes repaired, or go to a dry cleaner.

Murray calls the Bala Village area, which has yet to be rezoned, “a main street” project for small, pedestrian-oriented businesses on Bala Avenue from City Avenue to Montgomery Avenue. (The Clearview Bala Theatre is there, along with restaurants, small non-chain businesses, and numerous empty storefronts.)

The Righters Ferry Project is in the Regional Center Area. The hope, Murray said, is that employees who work at companies in the office towers that line City Avenue and St. Asaphs Road (which becomes Presidential Boulevard) happily will rent newly built apartments, such as those planned at the Nolen development.

They will have to earn a pretty decent wage. One of the 176 one-bedroom apartments with 850 square feet of space will rent for $2,000 per month, said Rick Sudall, Nolen managing director. The 106 two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,150-square-foot apartments will cost $2,500 monthly.

Sudall wasn’t worried that new housing might contribute to the overcrowding at some Lower Merion schools that is prompting construction of temporary classrooms.

Nolen will market the apartments to empty-nesters and young professional couples. He doesn’t expect many families with children.

About eight township residents went to the planning meeting Monday, including several who live in the Hillgate townhome development across Righters Ferry from the proposed apartments, and one man whose house and property is almost surrounded by the Nolen land.

They praised the accessibility of Nolen officials, but had some concerns. What if the apartment building and underground parking bring more traffic, not less?

What about security of a planned public-gathering area and a walking trail, asked Sonny Elia, who lives in one of the town houses. What about storm-water management, they all asked.

Sudall told planning committee members that Nolen was willing to work on all the issues and keep in touch with neighbors.

Contact Carolyn Davis at 610-313-8109,, or @carolyntweets on Twitter.

First project under City Avenue rezoning before Lower Merion planners March 4


Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013

By Cheryl Allison


Photo Pete Bannan. The porperty at 335 Righters Ferry Road in bala Cynwyd is being considered for a high rise.

When Lower Merion Township and members of the Bala Cynwyd community in particular were engaged in the long, controversial process to create new zoning that would foster redevelopment in the City Avenue corridor, it was generally framed as a change that would come at some distance in the future.

That future, though, could be much closer.

Next Monday night, March 4, the township’s planning commission is scheduled to review a first project making use of the increased density and other provisions of the not-quite-one-year-old rezoning ordinance.

On the agenda for the meeting, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Township Building, is a tentative sketch plan for a new 11-story, 284-unit apartment building on a five-acre parcel at 335 Righters Ferry Road.


Developer Nolen Properties of Philadelphia has submitted the sketch plan, the first step in land development review.

In plans on file with the township, the proposal calls for preserving a single-family three-story house near the property’s frontage on Righters Ferry Road, on a part of the parcel that retained its R-6A residential zoning in the rezoning. Although the house is not listed on Lower Merion’s historic resources inventory and thus has no historic preservation protection, it is believed to include a 17th-century core, making it one of the 10 oldest houses in the township, according to the Lower Merion Conservancy.

The new apartment building would sit farther back on the lot, which is wooded and largely open today, as it slopes up to abut the One Bala Plaza property above it on St. Asaph’s Road. The four-acre upper part of the parcel is now included in the new Regional Center Area zoning, which permits greater density and building height.

The parcel is above the former industrial area at the foot of Righters Ferry Road, where O’Neill Properties Group is also seeking approval for a 593-unit apartment complex. The adjoining property owner on the Schuylkill riverfront, Penn Real Estate Group, also reportedly has plans to develop upwards of 300 apartments on its land.

According to the plans, the new building would include nine stories of residential apartments above a three-level parking garage, most of which would be below-grade. In an initial sketch plan submitted to the township late last fall, the apartment units would have been a 50-50 split between one- and two-bedroom units. After meeting with township planning staff over recent months, a revised plan has been submitted, in which the mix of units shifts more heavily to one-bedroom units (now 62 percent). With the smaller units, however, the total number of apartments increased by 25, to 284.

The building is proposed at the 120-foot maximum height for this portion of the Regional Center Area. To achieve the proposed square footage of 333,893 (out of a maximum of 359,490), the developer is making use of several incentives to increase density that were built into the new zoning, including providing structured and underground parking. A total of 438 parking spaces, including six car-share spaces, is proposed to serve the apartment building. Eighty-nine percent of those spaces will be below-grade.

In addition, the plan includes a public gathering space of 35,000 square feet. Following guidelines of the Official Map adopted with the rezoning, a multi-purpose public path will run through the property.

As a part of City Avenue rezoning, Lower Merion Township followed a process to designate a Transportation Services Area for the corridor, an action that allowed it to develop a Transportation Capital Improvement Program for future roadway and intersection improvements, and to assess a traffic impact fee, based on new peak hour trips that are generated by development.

Nolen Properties will be required to pay that impact fee. Based on a traffic study submitted with the plan, the new apartments will generate an average of 1,846 weekday trips, including 174 new trips in the key afternoon peak hour. At $1,544 per trip, its total fee, which will go into a general fund for improvements, comes to $286,656. The traffic study indicates that increased traffic on Righters Ferry Road from planned development will be accommodated by a proposed new traffic signal at Righters Ferry and Monument roads, and with signal phasing changes at the Righters Ferry/Belmont Avenue intersection.

Nolen Properties, which has a long history in building and construction in Philadelphia and has won awards for its renovation of older buildings in the city as senior housing, came to a meeting of the Neighborhood Club of Bala Cynwyd in January to present its initial plan, Amara Briggs, the civic group’s president said when contacted this week.

Briggs said she had not yet seen the revised plan and did not want to comment in specifics until she has reviewed any changes, but said Nolen’s director of operations, Rick Sudall, “has been very proactive in meeting with us.”

She said the plan, as it was presented, is essentially a by-right plan under the new zoning. Asked about community members’ response, Briggs said the “overarching concern was not the plan itself, [but] was with respect to traffic.”

“This is just one project of several being considered for the area,” she said. A question will be “Overall, what is our tolerance” for additional traffic.