Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The Swarthmore Town Council again confronted the complex specifications and numerous ramifications of the slowly advancing Town Center West Revitalization Strategy in a meeting last Thursday.
The plans, known to students as the Inn Project, are moving forward, and a packet handed out to attendees outlined the Borough’s strategy. The meeting focused on proposals for zoning ordinances and parking accommodations, that were largely adopted by the end of the night.
The council spent the first forty-five minutes reviewing the minor adjustments to the now familiar plan. For those unclear on the details, the plan calls for a new structure to be built adjacent to the train station and directly facing the Ville’s downtown (in the northeast corner of the College’s southern property). It will contain a hotel, a restaurant and a bookstore. The building will link to the bulk of Swarthmore’s campus via Magill Walk, and it will be designed to integrate architecturally with the existing line of privately-owned buildings across Chester Road.
As the Gazette has previously reported, Fieldhouse Lane, the road that runs along the athletic and maintenance facilities, will be shifted southward as it approaches Chester Road to accommodate the new building. Parking will also squeeze in between the new Fieldhouse Lane and the track.
Among revisions to the plan is a reduction in the hotel’s room count from eighty to fifty, and slight adjustments to the parking demand estimates. Two additional diagrams detailing potential parking structures have been created in light of heightened aesthetic concerns about a wide parking lot. At the most recent meetings, residents’ comments and critiques have centered around the issue of where to put the influx of cars.
In January, some residents complained about the possible “sea of parking.” Last week resident Michael Homan, who avidly attends these meetings, spoke passionately about parking solutions and about the possibility of a two or three-story garage.
“I’m happy to hear the primary concern of the College on the parking structure is design, not cost, [but] we have a lot of smart problem-solvers here [and] I’m not sure what we’re seeing here reflects all the talent assembled here,” he said.
Homan went so far as to suggest the College pay for an underground lot. According to Council member Chris de Bruyn, who says he’s “in the construction business,” a lot would cost $1000 per car, an above-ground structure would be closer to $20,000 per car, and an underground one might be upwards of $40,000 per car. Conservative estimates of parking suggest at least two hundred new spaces will be required.
A common theme during the discussion was the disruption of green space and of the town’s quiet, natural aesthetic. Residents mentioned the barn (next to the baseball field) as a symbol of Swarthmore’s bucolic charm. However, it is unlikely that any decisions made now will affect the sight lines and “viewshed” to the barn, seeing as the inn, restaurant and bookstore building outlines are already set in stone.
Some worried that if parking isn’t carefully considered, the Ville may wind up with clogged streets and nary a free parking space to be found. Others were more content with an increase in shoppers and the perception of a booming downtown.
Two Council members chimed in on the side of a more vibrant commercial district. “People can live here without knowing it’s commencement until you hear the fireworks,” said Council member Laura Memeger.
Fellow Council member Al Federico finished her thought: “If you don’t have a parking problem, you’re in trouble. You’re a ghost town.”