Friday, January 27, 2012

Villanova expanding

by Natalie Kostelni
"Villanova University is proposing a more than $200 million expansion to its campus that would significantly re-shape an area along Lancaster Avenue that is now a series of barren surface parking lots.

Early plans call for constructing four, four- to five-story residence halls, a performing arts center, retail space and an 1,800-vehicle parking garage on the main parking lots. The retail space would be oriented toward the students and mean relocating the school’s bookstore, a bistro and some other uses on the campus.

The main objective of the development would be more on-campus housing and therefore pull the students who live in nearby neighborhoods back to the main campus, according to information about the project on the school’s website. The new residence halls would have 1,160 beds and provide housing for 85 percent of the school’s students. The school doesn’t intend to increase its enrollment.

The development would also help ease town-and-gown tensions that have flared up, particularly when partying students get out of hand or when student vehicles clog up neighborhood streets. It would also create a new gateway for the school on U.S. 30 and provide several “traffic calming” designs that would enhance that area of Lancaster Avenue.

As more students prefer to live on campus, the work will also go a long way in improving a pocket of Route 30. A two-year study of an 11-mile stretch of the corridor starting from its borders in Philadelphia to Old Eagle School Road in Strafford was completed last month by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.

The study makes a series of recommendations, priorities, plans and strategies that would build on the existing infrastructure but make it more walkable, less congested and connected by bicycling paths. Essentially, the plan makes it more attractive and user-friendly.

“It’s a blueprint for action,” said David Anderson of the regional planning commission. “We found at public meetings that the public in large part were supportive in the recommendations we had. In general, we are all singing from the same hymn books. It’s so obvious what needs to be done but the challenge looking forward is to make it happen in these economic times.”

Villanova is in the early stages of the project and in designing its overall concept, but it has detailed the plans on its website. It hired Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York and Voith & Mactavish Architects of Philadelphia. The school was set to begin presentations to the community and Radnor officials on Jan. 23 but canceled. No new date has been scheduled, according to the township.

Villanova officials declined comment until it goes before the Radnor Township Board of Commissioners, said Villanova spokesman Jonathan Gust.

The school has held two meetings with neighbors who have some general concerns, said Kathy Bogosian, who sits on the Radnor Planning Commission but hasn’t gotten to see the full proposal yet.

“My personal opinion at this point, since I haven’t reviewed the plans, is the buildings look attractive but a major concern is parking and whether there is enough,” Bogosian said.

The neighbors, especially, the businesses in the nearby Garrett Hill commercial area are worried the new retail will unfairly compete with them and might be able to forego paying some taxes since the university is tax exempt.

A tentative timeline for starting construction of the garage in May 2013 and completing it within a year and then begin building the residence halls between May 2014 and August 2016. The performing arts center could get under way once funding was secured."
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