February 16, 2010: SJU "The Hawk"Staff Editorial: Students need a say in Maguire use
By The Hawk Staff, Published: Tuesday, February 16, 2010
For almost two years, Saint Joseph’s University administrators and members of the Merion Community Coalition (MCC) have duked it out over the proper use of Maguire Campus. The former Episcopal Academy campus is home to 38 acres of land, perfect for classrooms, student spaces, and athletic fields.
Well, that was the plan at least.
St. Joe’s argues that the fields on Maguire Campus—particularly the baseball field located by Latches Lane and Raynham Road—will be used in a similar manner to those once used by Episcopal Academy (EA). Neighbors, led by the MCC, say that renovated fields with bleachers and a sound system would be an egregious departure from EA’s use in years prior. Something’s been missing amidst all of the prolonged zoning hearings, heated exchanges, and legal jargon, though: the voice of students.
It’s not just student athletes that have been affected by the battle over Maguire Campus’ use. All of us should have a say in how Maguire Campus is utilized—after all, it’s our tuition dollars (as well as a gift from James Maguire) that helped us procure the property from EA.
In March of 2009, Lauren Wylonis, a member of the MCC, talked about the lack of involvement on the part of Saint Joseph’s students. “It's not rocket science. I bet if I got together a group of 20 St. Joe's students, they could figure out a solution to this in a week,” Wylonis said. “[The students] would do a better job than the administration and I'd take them to negotiate with any day. It's just about being reasonable. There's a reasonable middle ground where everybody can come out benefiting.”
We’re not siding with the MCC in any way—there’s been unreasonableness on both sides of this suburban battle—but we agree with Wylonis’ sentiment that students should be consulted in these negotiations. Zoning board hearings held in Lower Merion may be open to the public, but they’re far from engaging for anyone—especially students.
A middle ground must exist. Neighbors need to understand that St. Joe’s has good intentions with these athletic fields. Any Division 1 baseball program needs a proper field, and one without speakers would be an oddity to say the least. But there also needs to be greater sympathy for the concerns of neighbors. In this tough economy, every little factor can make a difference in the value of people’s homes. Neighbors should be concerned about a loud speaker system, but they shouldn’t deny the university the right to have one at all. Limited hours of use with lower decibels might be an option that has gone previously unconsidered.
Moving forward, it would be wise for both sides—neighbors and university officials—to turn to the students who will ultimately make use of these contested 38 acres. Increased dialogue between these groups and Saint Joseph’s students should become a high priority moving forward.
July 7, 2009: Main Line Times > Response to letter from St. Joe’s staff memberTo the Editor:
I was unaware that the Merion Community Coalition was created to oppose Saint Joseph’s University’s land development as suggested in Ms. Chrestay’s recent letter to the editor [Main Line Times, July 2, 2009].
Having been present at its inception I recall that it was created initially as an e-mail contact group to communicate with the university in order to make sure that its land-development plans fit within the surrounding neighborhood. This is an important point. The organization consists of hard-working residents who border or live near the SJU campus. Its purpose, like any large-development perimeter group in Lower Merion such as the Harriton High School neighbors or the Lower Merion High School neighbors, is to ensure that the plans for a potentially neighborhood-changing development do not damage the look, feel and character of a surrounding neighborhood with excessive lights, noise or traffic or aesthetic intrusion.
The organization began to take shape as Saint Joe’s development plans seemed to veer off from commitments made while SJU was attempting to access the zoning privileges of Episcopal Academy, an 80-year-old prep school in a 120-plus-year-old neighborhood.
The neighbors should be organized and should be heard. What is at stake is one of the most historic, elegant and quiet neighborhoods in Lower Merion.
Brian A. Gordon, Merion (Lower Merion Township Commissioner)
July 7, 2007: Main Line Times > St. Joe’s compromise plan: A revolutionary ideaTo the Editor:
Walking on the Fourth of July, I thought of our revolutionary past and how it started. I had recently read Ms. Chrestay's letter in the Main Line Times, and some analogies began popping into my head.
In pre-revolutionary times, “committees of correspondence” were set up by the states to disseminate information thought important. I liken the Merion Community Coalition to a “committee of correspondence,” set up in the 21st-century manner, using the Internet. The initial purpose of the Merion Community Coalition was to inform the potentially interested community of major changes in the conduct and character of our neighborhood. I cannot envision a more democratic gesture.
The initial meetings of the Merion Community Coalition were tentative, since information about Saint Joseph’s University plans was not firm to begin with and changed over time. As Saint Joe’s plans unfolded, their “official version” being their submission to the planning and zoning-hearing boards, opposition to some aspects of the plans began to surface.
The Merion Community Coalition has attempted to work with Saint Joe’s directly or through an intermediary but has been rebuffed. Saint Joe’s working directly with the Merion Community Coalition could solve most problems but instead has chosen the “legal arena.”
For a representative of Saint Joe’s to state that “we only entered the legal arena after the Merion Community Coalition formed” is not technically correct, since presenting to the Zoning Hearing Board, with or without opposition, is the “legal arena.” That is where Saint Joe’s is now and we neighbors must appear or not have our wishes heard or acted upon.
The other “legal arena” entered by Saint Joe’s, having nothing to do with the Merion Community Coalition, is its appeal of the initial Zoning Hearing Board decision to deny many aspects of their original submission, to common-pleas court.
The Merion Community Coalition welcomes the opportunity to meet with Saint Joe’s representatives without the need for either side to go to court. Wouldn’t it be nice if after real negotiations, Saint Joe’s and the Merion Community Coalition would come to the July 23 Zoning Hearing Board meeting with a compromise plan that both sides could endorse and accept?
The ball is in Saint Joe’s court.
Walter Herman, M.D., Merion
May 11, 2009: Main Line Times > Opinions > "Sympathizes with his former Merion neighbors"
My family and I used to live directly across Latches Lane from the Episcopal Academy baseball field that St. Joseph’s University is now trying to convert into a full-blown NCAA baseball facility. We have happily escaped to a very quiet, very residential street in Penn Valley, but my heart goes out to my former neighbors who have to continue to contend with institutions like St. Joe’s, which apparently have no respect for the community into which they have interjected themselves.
What is really crazy about St. Joe’s is that when they first took over the Episcopal campus (we were still living there at the time) they told us that the use of the campus would not change and that basically we could rest assured that our lives could go on as normal. Well, they flat-out lied to us.
All that can be said now is that St. Joe’s is not going to back off and now we, the citizens of Lower Merion, are going to have to spend umpteen tax dollars to the lawyer class in a desperate attempt to preserve [the Merion] neighborhood from the interlopers from across City Line Avenue.
That seems to be the nature of life in America given the type of people who run our major institutions these days.
March 27, 2009: Re: ZHB written decisions and opinions
"I do not have the emails of those of you who contributed so much of your time to this cause, so I ask that you forward this email to them. We, the neighbors, are fortunate that you in particular took on the leadership roles for MCC. Thank you"
"WELL DONE!! thank you for all your efforts to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood!!!"
"This is wonderful. Thank you so much for all your work."
"To the MCC board: Bravo! Obviously it's a first step, but I would suggest a considerable one. At a minimum, the public message should get out that SJU's plans are indeed "exceptional."
"Thank you for your hard work on behalf of the community"
"THANK YOU - I know we've never met personally [...] I truly appreciate the work that you've done and the work that you do to help our neighborhood."