University & homeowners clash over land plans

August 3, 2010 For Saint Joseph's University the 38 acres of land that once belonged to Episcopal Academy is a crown jewel as the school expands further on the Lower Merion side of City Avenue but an on-going dispute over plans to improve the athletic fields has dragged on for over a year now. The fields are on or adjacent to Latches Lane.

"I'm very concerned about the quality of life, I'm also concerned about noise, excessive traffic and home value," said Paul Newman.

The neighborhood is the same one that battled with the renowned Barnes Institute for so long over expanding access, leading the multi-billion dollar art treasure house to move to Philadelphia.

The residents of Latches Lane say the university's plan to reconfigure some ball fields, add bleachers, install a public address system and artificial turf will mean added used of the fields far beyond Episcopal's sports programs and therefore ruin the neighborhood.

"Flag football is a constant whistle sport, every play is whistled down so if there are a couple games going on, on a Saturday afternoon and you live across the street from a couple of flag football games there's nothing you can do without being interrupted a thousand times in an afternoon," said Dr. Walter Herman.

The university has modified their plan promising limited use of speaker systems and creating a buffer along Latch's Lane. Saint Joseph's officials say they are bending over backwards to play ball with the homeowners along Latches Lane.

"We are moving the field back a little bit, we're enhancing the landscaping on Latches Lane," said John Smithson, Vice President, Saint Joseph's University.

"This neighborhood has existed well before Saint Joe's purchased this property. They are certainly entitled by property rights to use the property but they can't use it excessively," said Herman.

The next showdown is Tuesday night in the Lower Merion's municipal building when the local zoning board convenes a special August hearing.

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