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Narberth Discusses Future of Development

Residents and officials convened to share ideas about how to change the borough's zoning practices.

The biggest crowd yet to talk about Narberth's current and future property zoning filled the second-floor hall of the borough building Wednesday night.

About 90 residents and government officials attended, a group several times larger than previous monthly workshop meetings. Sean Metrick of Montgomery County's planning office, who is helping the borough develop a new "form-based" zoning code, ran the show.

As Metrick put it, a zoning code with more regulations on form than function might allow the borough to welcome a greater variety of businesses without sacrificing its distinctive appearance. In the Haverford Avenue corridor, for example, "people like the way it looks and are interested in improving the way it functions," Metrick said.

Though perhaps few residents would want to know all the technical differences between the zoning scheme the borough has now and the one it could adopt instead, Metrick said form-based zoning can help promote walkability, an important aspect of the borough.

The Narberth Civic Association has helped spread the word about the rezoning effort and keeps relevant maps and documents on its website.

Said Georgette Dubois of the civic's board of directors, "This is a very exciting process."

It's also early in the process.

"We are not starting to write the code itself until probably late summer or fall," Metrick said. "There's still time to do a lot more work."

Officials are physically surveying the borough through June, Metrick said. That process is about 20 percent done.

Borough Manager Bill Martin told Patch that, at the earliest, an ordinance might be ready to go to the Borough Council by the end of 2012.

Jim Cornwell, chairman of Narberth's planning commission, responded to one audience member who asked what prompted the rezoning project.

"We've observed a slow erosion of the character of the town. Buildings on Montgomery Avenue are being built out of character with their neighbors. You wind up with a pastiche of old and new that aren't comfortable with each other," Cornwell said from his seat in the audience. "Little by little, there are changes in small increments that diminish the quality and character of this place, which is a very intact artifact of the early 20th century. If we value the characteristics of this place—and most of us, I think, do—then it's incumbent upon us ... to maintain the characteristics that we cherish. We can allow modest change to occur while still preserving the character of our neighborhoods."

Councilman Bob Wegbreit asked when Metrick would have more to say about parking availability since "our entire zoning is now based on parking, more or less." Rules requiring businesses to have in reserve certain numbers of parking spaces have limited the prospects of some vacant retail spaces, something proponents of have lobbied against.

Metrick replied that once surveyors have finished measuring properties in the borough, "we can figure out where the spaces are being generated. ... There's a little bit of disconnect between what's on the books and what's really working in your town."

The next form-based zoning workshop is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 4, again in the borough building at 100 Conway Ave.

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