A development company is considering building houses or townhouses on part of the Main Line estate of the late Dorrance H. Hamilton, heir to the multibillion-dollar Campbell Soup fortune.
Representatives of Haverford Properties are scheduled to meet with Radnor Township residents for the first time Thursday.
The company has not formally submitted plans to the township, but some residents, already disgruntled over development in the sought-after area, say they feel a sense of inevitability. Under what’s known as “by-right” development, Haverford Properties can legally build housing on the parcel.
“They have, without question, the right to develop that property. We have no discretion," said Jack Larkin, a township commissioner who represents the section of Radnor where the development would be built. “We can never say we don’t want a particular industry in our town because we don’t like what it is.”
Nonetheless, residents have a list of requests and concerns about the projects that range from installing sidewalks to saving old trees.
“It seems inevitable," said Caren Morrissey, whose backyard shares a fence with the Hamilton estate. "I think what we can do is mitigate whatever negative effects it will have.”
The developer, Larkin said, asked to meet with him “as a courtesy" in mid-December. They discussed two options for two plots of the vacant wooded estate at Strafford Avenue and Eagle Road.
One option — “purportedly a by-right plan," Larkin said — would allow Haverford Properties to construct around 40 single-family houses across the two parcels. It would leave little open space, narrow gaps between houses and the street, and few areas for stormwater to drain in an area susceptible to heavy flooding.
“This is, to me, an unattractive plan,” he said in a January newsletter to residents.
The other choice, for which Haverford Properties would need conditional-use approval from Radnor Township, would have 50 townhouses across the two lots. Forty-one houses would sit on one lot, and the remaining nine on the second.
“They leave a lot of space for the things that are absent in the by-right plan,” said Larkin, a municipal and commercial litigation attorney. “Stormwater management, sidewalks, buffers, and open space. The density is problematic for me, but with that in mind, it is a good plan.”
The differences between the plans are telling, residents said.
“They’re trying to strong-arm the neighborhood into agreeing the townhomes are the better plan," Morrissey said.
Haverford Properties declined to comment.
Larkin said he did not know the terms of sale between the developer and the owner of the estate, still listed in public records as Dorrance Hamilton. Delaware County property records do not show a change of hands. Larkin was uncertain about the estate’s acreage.
“Dodo” Hamilton, whom Forbes named one of the wealthiest people in the United States, died in 2017 at age 88.
Residents have complained that the neighborhood is already crammed. Sixty-four houses sit on 35 acres near Strafford and Eagle Roads, a busy area next to a train station to and from which residents routinely walk. Haverford Properties’ plans, they said, would expand the total number of houses in the neighborhood to 114, amounting to about three houses per acre.
To accommodate the growing density, they said, grand old trees have been cut down, including those on the Hamilton estate.
And the path to get to the train station, which lacks sidewalks and some street lighting, has grown increasingly fraught for pedestrians as drivers speed by and ignore stop signs, residents said.
Sidewalks could be one concession the developer could grant, Larkin said. “They have not outright refused — at least yet — to talk to residents about additional requests they made.”
Residents, too, have been diplomatic, he said.
“The residents are doing a really nice job understanding that Pennsylvania law is what it is," Larkin said. “Developers have the right to build. None of them said, ‘Please don’t do this here, but go elsewhere.’ They’re sophisticated, they’re intelligent, and they’re doing exactly what they need to do.”