Stop and listen to the songbirds before they are gone By:Carla J.

Zambelli 05/03/2007 Email to a friendPost a CommentPrinter-friendly It is a beautiful crystal clear spring morning with the kind of bright blue sky that begs you to get up and take a walk. So I have done just that.

As my dogs and I walked through my small neighborhood soaking in the sweet sounds of songbirds calling to one and other, enjoying the sheer quietness of a morning still devoid of human generated sounds, and the perfume of spring flowers wafting through the air, I began to wonder. I wondered if all of this would be here once the condominiums came? Would our songbirds want to sing in a much more gilded cage, and was anyone else thinking about these very things in other small neighborhoods along the Main Line? What about Rugby Road in Bryn Mawr? The trees are wonderful there. They must have scores of songbirds. But will they still sing if one side of the street, which had four or five homes, is developed into a big clump of as many as nine McMansions? How about Righters Mill Road in Gladwyne? Soon, the neighbors in that neighborhood will learn their fate when the zoning hearing board renders a decision. A resident of that small neighborhood pointed out to me recently "this case involves a developer coming into the historic district to change the rules of play." I wonder does this developer care at all about how his project will impact a historic district that is also a small neighborhood? Now take a look at what is posted on Lower Merion Township's own Web site for the next zoning hearing board meeting on May 10. A developer wants permission to cobble together two properties in Ardmore: 130 Cricket Avenue and 24 School Lane. Then this developer has plans to plop 37 units of what sound like condominium apartments on the lot. Where does the developer think all those people are going to park and why does another older house or two have to be sacrificed for the type of development small neighborhoods do not truly desire? Small neighborhoods have to be so continually vigilant of these development issues that it makes it hard to enjoy where you call home. And then there was that drive I took through Radnor Township yesterday. In some of those charming smaller neighborhoods across Conestoga Road from where the new walking trail has public parking I noticed the telltale signs of orange construction fencing around small older homes combined with realty company signs trumpeting "new construction" and things like "lot for sale." All I kept thinking was no small neighborhood was safe anywhere along the Main Line. What kind of future do any of us who are left behind in these small neighborhoods have? The stakeholders? Someone in Radnor who is against the development of Historic Ithan and Radnorville along Conestoga Road said to me recently with regard to the definition of stakeholders:

"Stakeholders are the folks left behind after the developers have banked their money and left town." What I see from one township to the next is that we all have the same issues. How do we all keep the historic import of our older communities and small neighborhoods in the face of rampant new construction? How do all of our planning boards, for example, interact with the public and the various boards of commissioners from one community to the next? Planning boards, like zoning hearing boards are appointed, not elected officials. So when I hear about a planning board member in a neighboring township acting oddly independent on a sensitive and highly charged development issue, what am I supposed to think? If a planning board is supposed to operate as a group, is it good for one member to act so independently? What are the rules here? I see only one municipality that seems to get it, and that is Tredyffrin. From what I read in the newspapers, Tredyffrin Township seems to be able to say no to development if they don't like it. What magical knowledge do they have that none of us have in other municipalities? Maybe it is time for local municipalities from Ardmore to Malvern to stop and think. We are all facing the same development issues, often from the same pool of developers. All of our Main Line municipalities are also toying with Transit Oriented Development and smart growth issues, although I don't see what is smart about some of these plans. Is it time for all of these municipalities to hit the collective pause button on development and get together to talk? Why keep reinventing the wheel from one municipality to the next? Why not give the residents of small neighborhoods a break? Why not stop and listen to the songbirds? You'll miss them when they're gone.

Carla J. Zambelli writes an occasional column for Main Line Life.

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