Lower Merion Moves Forward with Obtaining Site for New Park
By Richard Ilgenfritz Oct 27, 2017
Lower Merion is moving closer to having a new park in the township and it could give residents in the area a safer way walk to a nearby train station.
At a meeting on Oct. 18, the Board of Commissioners approved a motion to accept a donation from Sunoco of a small parcel of land it owns just off City Avenue in Merion near the Overbrook train station. The township had once considered buying the site but now it will be giving to the corporation.
“We’ve been able to work it to the point where we are now able to accept the property as a donation which is wonderful for the township,” Commissioner Tiffany O’Neill, chairwoman of the board’s property committee said.
Bob Duncan, assistant township manager, said Lower Merion had an agreement of sale with Sunoco in 2007 but under the terms of that sale Sunoco was supposed to have the site cleaned up within five years.
“When they failed to meet that five-year deadline, the township decided not to pursue the agreement of sale and began discussing the donation of the property from Sunoco to the township and Sunoco has recently agreed to donate the property,” Duncan said.
The site was a former Sunoco gas station and has been empty for many years. It has since been cleaned up from contamination.
The site is at 2 Merion Road in Merion, just off City Avenue next to a bridge over the SEPTA line and the Overbrook train station.
Jonathan Zerges, president of the new friends of the park group that has been created to help care for it, said they have already made a master plan for the park and they’ve reached out to other park groups to learn what works and hasn’t worked. The group has also reached out to SEPTA, Amtrak, geologists, traffic engineers, PennDOT and others.
“We have the know-how, we have the pledges, we have the passion, we’re going to be here for the long term, we have the long-term experience – people in our group,” Zerges said.
According to Zerges, when they spoke with PennDOT they were told over the past three years there have been three pedestrian accidents at the intersection.
Joseph Abramson of Bala Cynwyd recommended putting a deed restriction to keep the site as a park. Joking about the school district’s interest in using another township park, he said, “This is a great property to have five or six trailers [for] Merion Elementary School, so you might want to make sure it stays a park.”
Kevin Dunleavy, a nearby Merion resident, said he uses the Overbrook train station a lot and would like the option to cross City Avenue under the bridge where it is safer. “In my life crossing City Line Avenue is certainly by far one of the most dangerous things I do,” he said. I’ve had many close calls. I’ve had my feet run over by traffic, cars have come within inches of me several times and I’ve seen a lot of people with similar experiences. It’s a really good idea to give people an option to go under [with] the tracks instead of having to go across City Line Avenue.”
Currently, the path between the future park and the Overbrook train station does not have clear and safe access.
Board President Dan Bernheim asked if the township would need to do anything in terms of safety issues in the short term.
According to Donna Heller, director of Parks and Recreation for Lower Merion Township, they will have to block access, especially while the site is under construction. She added that they have also spoken with the police department and they recommended bringing down trees to open up the site lines between the township site and the train station.
Heller said they could remove the macadam in-house and save about $15,000. But that, she added, it would leave a depression in the ground so the township would have to purchase dirt for it.
Commissioner Brian Gordon, who represents the ward where the park is located, said there is a horticulturist in their friend’s group so maybe just getting rid of some of the smaller trees could open the sightlines enough.
Gordon also described what has been called a tunnel under City Avenue, an extension of the platform for the train station, and it has lights. SEPTA, he said, could add one or two more lights that would shine up the path and would also be a benefit to them.