Louella Changes Discussed Thoroughly at 6/20 Board of Commissioners Meeting

For the past four months, the discussion of a new garage on the east lawn of the Louella mansion in Wayne has dominated many township meetings. The would-be developers of the property, C.F. Holloway III & Co., would like to turn the mansion into 12 condominiums (from 25 apartments), replace historic features such as the windows and dormers, and build a 24-car garage on the east lawn. The Commissioners meeting of June 20 followed up the June 1 Historic and Architectural Review Board (HARB) meeting, during which the HARB approved of an underground garage for the east lawn.

Since then, both the residents of Louella Court and the developer have stated their opinions on the matter in Main Line Suburban Life. The Louella Court article is found here, the developers’ here.

One Louella Court resident pointed out that the approved garage will link with the historic structure, and thus some demolition will be necessary. The HARB ruled on the garage, but did not consider its link with the mansion because a discussion about changes to the mansion as a whole was to be addressed at a future meeting. Dave Falcone, lawyer for C.F. Holloway III & Co., refuted this claim, saying that changes to the east side of the building were part of the discussion on the table and were shown on the plans submitted. South Wayne resident Baron Gemmer testified that changes to the main building were not discussed at the HARB meeting by either side. While referencing a drawing from the architect, Gemmer stated, “these windows and these stairs are all being demolished. What’s more important is not that they should have to come back, it’s that they can’t build the garage without demolishing this… to me the application is incomplete.” A drawing of the proposed changes shows that basement windows would be covered by the garage, which would be built above the current grade.

Left: the current conditions of the east façade. Right: the proposed changes.

The implication was that the discussion of the garage and changes to the east façade of the mansion go hand in hand, and the HARB had not adequately addressed the mansion or clarified that any changes to the mansion be voted on separately. Mr. Falcone stated his belief that those changes were shown in the plans submitted to the HARB, and that the approved garage construction could not be possible without the demolition. Mr. Holloway then spoke, stating that the connection of the garage to the building was discussed at all of the HARB meetings. “There was no question on HARB’s part as to where the building was going to be connected,” Holloway stated. “I find it interesting that there are certain people that are trying to delay this application when the connection of the underground garage was thoroughly discussed and approved by the HARB.” No members of the HARB were present at the Board of Commissioners meeting to clarify how they interpreted the plans.

Regarding the value of the windows set to be removed for the garage connection, Ward 4 Commissioner Elaine Shaeffer stated, “that’s what our HARB is there to protect; when there is a demolition of assets on a historic building that has been designated historic there needs to be that discussion.”

Mr. Holloway stated that he was “flabbergasted” by the process, at the prospect of having to go before the HARB for a fourth time. The confusion stemmed from whether the HARB approved the idea of the underground garage, or the full plans which imply that basement windows would be demolished. In the end, the Commissioners voted 3-2 (with one recusal) to table the approval and send it back to HARB, with the condition that the HARB come back to the Commissioners at their very next meeting to clarify their position. The HARB’s next meeting is July 6.

The discussion, which lasted over an hour, can be viewed below.

Video posted on YouTube by John Haines