The Manayunk-ification of Ardmore

The Ardmore sign at night on Anderson Avenue by Suburban Square in Ardmore, PA – via Wikimedia Commons

The Ardmore Master Plan is a comprehensive and far-reaching proposal for the future of the Main Line town. Drafted by a Lower Merion Township Steering Committee, the plan proposes an updated Historic District which would emphasize pedestrian walkability, introduce bike lanes, and create new public spaces. The three main goals are “Strong Economic Vitality, Vibrant and Sustainable Public Realm, and Safe and Convenient Multimodal Connections.”

The proposal gives pedestrians more control over the busy streets. Raised intersections, curb extensions, and crossing islands would be placed on Lancaster, Montgomery, and Ardmore Avenues. Narrower driving lanes would promote slower car speeds, and speed humps and raised medians would calm traffic. Schauffele Plaza, which is currently used as a parking lot for establishments such as Bella Italia Pizza and Tired Hands Brewery, would be turned into a park meant for community gatherings and public events. 

“I don’t understand it—Ardmore does not have a bike culture… Bike lanes are fine, I just don’t know who would use them.” 

Michael wylie ’24

Bicycle transportation is also highlighted in the plan. An idea for a redesigned Rittenhouse Place has bike lanes that would connect to the ‘Downtown Ardmore Bike Loop’ that circumnavigates the Historic District. Bikesharing and e-scooters are mentioned briefly in the plan as well, despite the fact that rideshare e-scooters are effectively banned in Pennsylvania. 

“I don’t understand it—Ardmore does not have a bike culture,” Fifth Former Michael Wylie, a lifetime resident of the town, said. “A place like Havertown has a huge bike culture, but not here. Bike lanes are fine, I just don’t know who would use them.” 

Math teacher Ms. Barbara LaPenta, an Ardmore renter, is worried about some of the proposals on the Master Plan. 

“I’m not opposed to the traffic and safety changes, but my concern is parking. A lot of businesses suffer because of parking issues,” Ms. LaPenta shared.

Wylie, a Bella Italia regular, has struggled to park near the pizza restaurant. 

“I have to park very far away because that parking lot is always filled. If that parking lot was turned into a community space, I would probably have to park even farther away,” he said.

Despite having to walk farther for his pizza, Wylie would be able to enjoy his slice in the newly created adjacent park.

There is concern in the community that there is presently not enough parking, yet the Ardmore Master Plan proposes even less parking. Part of the plan is the creation of a Transit Overlay Zone, an area “to allow higher density mixed-use development within a ten-minute walk of Ardmore Station.” 

This designated space would increase density, raise building heights, and decrease parking requirements. The logic behind this zone is that living closer to the Ardmore Train Station would encourage the use of public transit rather than automobiles.

“Even if you take the train every day, you still probably own a car if you live in Ardmore. It doesn’t make sense to make an area more populated and not have enough parking,” Wylie said. “If you have a denser area to bring in more people, you need enough parking spaces for those people.”

The Transit Overlay Zone (TOZ) would also allow four-story buildings on Lancaster Avenue, five-story buildings with setbacks, and six-story buildings along the regional rail. Ardmore has struggled with the acceptance of tall building heights before. One Ardmore Place, the eight-story luxury apartment complex, is considered by many to be an eyesore because of its height and bland facade. Lower Merion Township overhauled its zoning height regulations in 2020 from lessons learned, and this new proposed zone is an attempt to modify it. The TOZ would allow for more buildings like One Ardmore Place to rise along the rail line.

“If this goes through, I fear Ardmore is going to become more like Manayunk,” Ms. LaPenta said. 

“I rent in Ardmore currently, and this plan is showing me that I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to rent here.”

Ms. Barbara Lapenta

Manayunk has a vibrant urban community, but is notorious for its lack of parking and high residential rents.

“I rent in Ardmore currently, and this plan is showing me that I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to rent here,” Ms. LaPenta said.

The steering committee’s plan addresses rent affordability and proposes the creation of an affordable housing land trust for buildings over five stories.

“The plans are exciting, but it means that people like me who have lived here for most of their life won’t be able to because of raised rents,” Ms. LaPenta said. “If all of these things go into place, I’m definitely not going to be able to own a property or rent anymore in Ardmore.” 

Lower Merion commissioners met on April 12th and decided that the Ardmore Master Plan needs revisions before it can seek approval. While bike lanes, raised crosswalks, and taller buildings are not approved yet, Ardmore’s development will still march on. Notable approved projects include an extension of Suburban Square down Coulter Ave, a mixed-use residential building on the Piazza lot, and a parking garage for SEPTA commuters next to the under-construction train station. For now, Ardmore residents can expect a transformed town in the next decade. 

They can go to Manayunk for a preview of the future.