HARRISBURG - A Commonwealth Court judge said Monday that he could decide this month if Dranoff Properties' controversial mixed-use development in Ardmore can proceed.
The project, which would replace the township's Cricket Avenue parking lot with an eight-story residential tower, stores, restaurants, and a parking garage, has generated sustained opposition from some residents, who say it is too dense for downtown Ardmore. It has the backing of Lower Merion Township, the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority, and the state, which granted $10.5 million in redevelopment funds.
The latest, and possibly last, legal challenge to the project was filed in August by the Save Ardmore Coalition, a group of taxpayers who argue that the state grant should be revoked because the plan no longer includes improvements to the Ardmore train station as proposed when the legislature approved the funds in 2007.
If President Judge Dan Pellegrini allows the case to proceed, it could imperil a project beleaguered by years of delays and facing an April deadline to break ground before the $10.5 million grant expires.
Attorneys for the township, the commonwealth, and Dranoff argued that the suit should be thrown out because the coalition does not have standing to challenge the decisions of government agencies.
Deputy Attorney General Lucy Fritz told Pellegrini that allowing this challenge would "open the floodgates" for any taxpayer to challenge any grant.
"There are thousands and thousands of RACP applications that the Office of the Budget is currently reviewing," she said. "The legislature has invested us with the discretion to oversee this program. . . . You would be eviscerating that discretion."
Pellegrini said the issues in this case are unlike any he has heard. If he gets beyond the question of standing, he said, it would come down to interpreting what the legislature meant when it approved the grant for "costs related to the redevelopment of the Ardmore train station."
"They can define ['related to'] any way they want to define it. But they didn't," Pellegrini said.
John S. Summers, the attorney representing Lower Merion and the RDA, said the project meets the job creation and economic stimulus requirements for the RACP program and would be transit-oriented development.
The coalition argued that adding a few new parking spaces - 35 of them, currently proposed for a maximum of four hours - might serve the new stores and restaurants but won't help commuters or the dilapidated train station.
"You can't have parking for a transit center if the transit center isn't being built," said Mark Freed, the coalition's attorney. "It's morphed into a residential and commercial development."
If no settlement is reached, Pellegrini said, he expects to issue a ruling within two weeks.