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

Posted by Amanda Mahnke (Editor) from

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.

Senior housing project features heavy dose of historic restoration

January 15, 2013

By Amy Z. Quinn for NewsWorks

From the May 21, 1889 New York Times, under the headline “Telegraphic Brevities”:

At the meeting of the American Baptist Publication Society in Boston yesterday the Hon. Horatio G. Jones, President of the Trustees of the George Nugent Home for Baptists at Germantown, Philadelphia, announced that the home had a foundation or endowment of $300,000 or $400,000, and was ready to receive all Baptist ministers and their wives over sixty years of age. The inmates are supported for life.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A pair of senior housing projects

In talking about historical properties and their restoration, the phrase “character defining elements” comes up often. It means attributes of a building that make it extra-special — grand balconies, architectural flourishes, distinctive windows.

On West Johnson Avenue in Mount Airy, the ongoing re-do of the former Nugent Home for Baptists, along with the makeover of the former Presser Home For Retired Music Teachers just next door, are restoring two of the historic neighborhood’s own character defining elements.

Nolen Properties bought the two large sites, which had been vacant since 2002, and will eventually join them as one 5.5-acre campus with a planned third building in between in an open area that was once gardens. The 1914 Presser building, now the Presser Senior Apartments, is finished, its 45 units full and with a waiting list.

But work began only recently on what will be the $17 million, 57-unit Nugent Senior Apartments.

Despite Nolen’s decades of work building and rehabbing properties in and around the city, the outfit had never dealt with buildings quite like these, company officials said. With the Presser and Nugent buildings, President Jim Nolen, Managing Director Rick Sudall and the project team are stepping gingerly through the National Park Service rules and mandates that govern every aspect of the historic restoration process.

Attention to detail

On this frigid January day, it’s the color of the roof tiles.

The 1895 Nugent Home’s Chateauesque style involves a complicated roof with copper flashing, spires, and turrets covered with terra cotta tiles. Most of the copper is long gone, stolen by thieves who also carted off nearly every bit of metal from the building, including radiators affixed to interior walls and bathtubs to floors, Sudall said.

The tiles are in bad shape as well, though some still cling to the roof. Others sit in neat piles on the construction site, or in cracked pieces on the ground.

Nolen received approval to replace the originals with reproduction tiles made of a synthetic in the exact size, shape and color as the original terra cotta. But, Jim Nolen said, they now have a vendor willing to reproduce the tiles in terra cotta, though the exact color of the originals can’t be replicated because it involved an outdated glazing process.

So the question becomes, is it worth taking an extra step toward authenticity and getting the terra cotta if it means risking rejection by historic preservations officials because of the color?

“We broke our own rule number one, which was we fell in love with the real estate,” said Nolen.

Restoration after conflict

He’s not the only one. In a recent interview with Plan Philly’s Alan Jaffe, the Nugent and Presser projects were claimed as major triumphs of the 10-year tenure of John Gallery as head of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. Gallery described the community groundswell of support for the properties as “snatching something from the jaws of death.”

For two magnificent structures built to provide a secure home for the elderly, the recent history of the Nugent and Presser buildings was rich first in degradation, as they fell into disrepair, then drama as the community rallied to save them.

In 2004, the Impacting Your World congregation bought the combined 5.6 acres with the intention of razing the buildings to make way for a new mega-church. Neighbors and local officials mounted an effort to save the buildings, which saw the buildings added to the city and state registers of historic properties.

When the Impacting Your World deal fell through, Nolen bought both properties in 2005, as the historic preservation effort was ongoing. Today, the developers freely admit they didn’t quite know what they were getting themselves into.

“We found out the hard way,” Sudall said.


Nolen originally bought the buildings with the intention of restoring them and leasing them as market-rate units, before the collapse of the housing market led them back to senior housing and the tax credits that can come with it.

The developer’s plans for the Nugent building were turned down twice for historic preservation tax credits, until the third version came up with plans that would more fully preserve and in many cases re-create from scratch those “character defining elements” — wide hallways, the front porch, a carved-wood central staircase, and front parlors created by tall bay windows, Sudall said.

On the exterior, the one-inch Roman brick facing, now graffiti-tagged, will be cleaned and restored, the 16 chimneys shored up, damaged woodwork and a stolen cornice and columns re-created. Inside, spaces are now gutted to stone and wood, but will be transformed to 21 apartment units.

At the back of the building, a fire-damaged porch was removed and will instead see a 15-foot wide glass-walled connector to a new building, built in a matching exterior and with an additional 36 apartment units.

Sudall said even with the tax credits and $2 million in city funding, the cost of the historic renovation made the new units a financial necessity. Rents on the units will be set in a range, from $195 to $794 each month, depending on income levels. Six apartments will be handicap-accessible.

A full year before residents will move in, the Nugent property has a 75-person waiting list, Sudall said.


NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at

Historic Nugent Home to be Transformed into Senior Apartments


Community members, elected officials, and funders joined Nolen Properties to celebrate the groundbreaking of Nugent Senior Apartments in Mt Airy. Originally built in 1895, the “Nugent Home for Baptists” will be restored and converted into 57 affordable senior apartments. A new addition on the rear of the building will offer greater design flexibility and interior community space.     

Alan Greenberger, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Director of Commerce, said “The investment in Nugent will not only transform a vacant structure into quality housing for our seniors, but will also preserve the neighborhood’s history, improve the quality of life for local residents, and create a more attractive community for additional investment in the surrounding area.” 

Nugent was originally built by philanthropist George Nugent for the care of elderly Baptist Ministers and their wives. The Nugent building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006 after its owner failed in its attempt to secure demolition permits; Nolen Properties acquired the building shortly thereafter. In 2011, Nolen Properties completed construction of the adjacent Presser Senior Apartments, a similar conversion of a historic building into 45 affordable senior apartments.


Councilwoman Cindy Bass said, “Restoring Nugent strengthens our community in so many ways – it decreases blight, increases property value, creates housing opportunities, and reminds us what a historic and lively community we live in.”   

Six apartments will be fully handicapped accessible and three will be designed for residents with sensory impairments. Six will be affordable to seniors with incomes less than 20% Area Median Income (AMI) (maximum household income for one person is $17,150) and the remainder will be affordable to seniors with incomes between 50% and 60% AMI (maximum household income for one person is $34,260). There will be seven efficiencies and 50 one-bedroom apartments with rents ranging between $195 per month to $794 per month. 

State Representative Rosita Youngblood said, “The restoration of Nugent is a victory for so many in our community who fought for its preservation. It will remove blight and help beautify our neighborhood, create jobs, and provide quality and safe housing for our senior residents. Thank you to Nolen Properties and all the partners for making this possible.” 


The development includes a community room, a large porch, and laundry facilities on each floor. The large lawn between Nugent and Presser will be preserved. Philadelphia Senior Center will provide supportive services to the residents and will also provide resident referrals. 

The City of Philadelphia is providing $2.6 million. Nugent also received a Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) Low Income Housing Tax Credit award. 

Brian Hudson, executive director of PHFA, said, “Investing in Nugent is investing in the neighborhood, the residents, and the City’s history. Transforming this vacant structure into housing helps the community, the local economy, and maintains an important piece of history.” 

Jim Nolen, president of Nolen Properties, said, “We are thrilled to be able to restore Nugent back into a beautiful place to call home once again. Thank you to the neighbors, the City, and our funders for support of this extraordinary project.”

Mt. Airy Landmark May Get Second Chance

James Nolen (right) and Rick Sudall are restoring the old Nugent Home for Baptists at 221 W. Johnson St. into affordable apartments for senior citizens.(Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

by Jennifer Lin, Inquirer Staff Writer
Thursday April 26, 2012
Unlocking a side door to the abandoned Nugent Home for Baptists, James Nolen steps into the darkness of the chateau-style landmark in Mount Airy. He aims a flashlight down a long corridor littered with fallen plaster, trash, and glass shards.His company, Nolen Properties, part of a fourth-generation family construction business in Philadelphia, wants to convert the century-old building at 221W. Johnson St. into affordable housing for senior citizens.No one’s lived here for more than a decade — but someone’s clearly upstairs.Nolen hears footsteps.

A raccoon?

The sound is too heavy for an animal.

Nolen calls police. Even with boarded-up windows and padlocks, Nugent attracts squatters and vandals. They already have stripped every inch of copper wiring from behind walls and ripped out radiators to sell as scrap, sometimes chucking them out windows.

“I once found a man living in squalor in a room on the second floor,” Nolen says. “He had 30 baby strollers and told me, `I’m doing witchcraft up here!’ ”

As two police cars pull onto the property, a pair of twentysomethings sheepishly emerges from the building. Ellen, who holds a camera and flashlight and carries a daypack, apologizes and explains that they are only “urban explorers.” Her friend John insists that they meant no harm and only wanted a glimpse into the Nugent’s past.

Peeved but not about to press charges, Nolen tells them, “Why don’t you make an appointment and look at the building next door that’s safe and finished?”

Next door, Nolen Properties already has restored the historic Presser Building, a former old-age home for music teachers that reopened last year as 45 apartments for low-income seniors.

Now, the company has moved one step closer to doing the same for the Nugent.

This month, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency awarded Nolen Properties low-income housing tax credits worth $11.5 million. The company will sell those tax credits to investors and use the proceeds to cover much of the cost of restoring the building. The city’s Office of Housing and Community Development has agreed to lend the company $2.6 million.

While that covers most of the $16-million price tag, the project faces one more hurdle. Because the Nugent building is on the National Register of Historic Places, the National Park Service must sign off on the construction plan.

“We’re waiting for more information,” said Michael Auer, who works on technical preservation services for the National Park Service.

If it is approved, Nolen says, the company could begin renovating the Nugent in August. The plan is to convert the 3½-story Nugent building into 25 apartments, while constructing a new annex with 32 more units behind the historic property. The units would rent to people over 62 earning between $16,000 and $32,000.

Eventually, the company would like to create a campus for senior living on the six acres that includes the Nugent and Presser. On the drawing boards, Nolen said, is construction of a third building with 124 apartments.

In Mount Airy, demand for rental units that older people could afford on fixed incomes is strong, Nolen said. When the company finished the Presser Building next door, it rented all the units in three months and has more than 300 names on its waiting list. “The senior housing market is underserved,” he said.

Yvonne Haskins, a member of the zoning committee for West Mount Airy Neighbors, a community association, said residents in the area are “delighted” with the plans for the Nugent building. “The building has such a huge presence in West Mount Airy,” she said.

The mix of old and new will make the project economically feasible, Haskins said. Nolen Properties has said that it will cost $345,000 to renovate an apartment in the old building, vs. $150,000 a unit in the proposed annex. The new construction “is going to be done in a way that’s very sensitive to the historic value” of the Nugent Home, she said.

For the Nugent, the last few decades have been difficult.

Built in 1895, the brick-and-terra cotta old-age home was designed to look like a château. Philanthropist George Nugent, who made his fortune operating a textile mill near what is now East Falls, bequeathed the money for the retirement home in his will. During his years as a Baptist deacon, Nugent was concerned about the living conditions of elderly ministers and missionaries. He wanted to give them an alternative to the poorhouse or other government-funded institutions.

A few years after the Baptist Home opened, a music publisher, Theodore Presser, built a retirement home next door for elderly music teachers.

Both properties were bought in 1980 by an investor group and converted into boarding homes for the elderly and people with mental disabilities. Each had a long history of problems, including fires, decrepit conditions, overcrowding, and sexual assaults on residents.

The owners closed the personal-care homes in 2002 and reached an agreement to sell them to the Rev. Ray A. Barnard, who planned on demolishing the structures to build a new mega-church for his Impacting Your World Christian Center. Neighbors and preservationists were outraged and fought to list the properties on the National Register.

The deal fell through and Nolen stepped in in 2002, buying the two buildings and almost six acres for $2.5 million.

In bringing new purpose to the old Nugent building, Nolen will have his hands full. Historic renovations, he said, are not for the faint of heart.

“You’re going to be surprised,” Nolen said. “But it’s infinitely more rewarding to take something like this that is really art and put life back into it.”

Contact Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or, or follow on Twitter @j_linq.

The Nugent Senior Apartments Receives State Funding

-Germantown Newspapers, April 26, 2012, p. 11

The Nugent Senior Apartments located at 221 West Johnson Street has been selected by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency for the construction of affordable senior housing. The proposal by Nolen Properties provides for the renovation of the historic 1895 “Nugent Home for Baptists” into 57 senior apartments and includes a new addition
on the rear of the building.

Once described as the “Most Endangered Historic Building in the City” by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, the building’s grand “Chateauesque” design is an outstanding work of Philadelphia architect J. Franklin Stuckert. It was built by philanthropist George Nugent and constructed solely for the care of elderly Baptist Ministers and their wives. The Nugent building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Nolen Properties acquired the building in 2006 after the previous owner failed in its attempt to secure demolition permits. In 2011, Nolen Properties completed construction of the adjacent Presser Senior Apartments at 101 West Johnson Street, a similar conversion of a historic building into 45 affordable senior apartments. All 45 Presser Apartments were leased in three months. The Presser Senior Apartments is the 2011 winner of the Grand Jury Award for Historic Preservation from the Preservation Alliance as well as the Pennsylvania Multi-Family Historic Preservation Award from Preservation Pennsylvania.

Nolen Properties principal Jim Nolen was extremely pleased to have been selected in the very competitive PHFA bidding process: “We are delighted to be able to restore this magnificent structure to its original glory while providing for the housing needs of our older neighbors in the Germantown and Mt. Airy neighborhoods.” Nolen has retained the architectural firm JKR Partners to complete the architectural design and David Plante, PE, a Germantown resident and principal of Ritter & Plante Associates, as the
Nugent site engineer.

The City of Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development has also expressed the support of the Nugent Senior Apartments in the form of a $2.6 million affordable housing loan. The Nugent Senior Apartments has received final approval from
the Philadelphia Historical Commission.

Editor’s note: This magnificent West Johnson Street property, and the adjacent Presser Senior Home, survived a typical Philadelphia government underground move to demolish them as a political favor for insiders close to senior elected leadership. Were it not for the prompt actions of a small neighborhood organization (PCCC) and the recruitment of two others (WMAN and WCGN) in support of having them properly designated historical, they would have fallen and would not be serving the valuable civic purpose of senior housing. They were only a week away from a secretly drafted demolition permit when the
city was stopped.