In a major win for LMSD and Stoneleigh, the Lower Merion Township Building and Planning Committee voted to end the process of designating 1860 Montgomery Ave (Islamic Center) as a Class 1 Historic Resource, paving the way for Lower Merion School District to build a middle school on the property and “very likely” ending the district’s possible attempt to acquire all of the Stoneleigh Natural Garden which members of the community have protested. The vote breakdown of the committee was tied 7-7, which came after nearly 3 hours of comment and debate.
Following the meeting, Lower Merion School Board President Melissa Gilbert told me that as a result of the commissioners decision that it “makes it very very likely that Stoneleigh is off the table.” At the time, Gilbert did not specify if “off the table” referred to all of Stoneleigh or just the 6.9 acres that Gilbert in the past said the district needed for athletic fields. The next day, District Spokesperson Amy Buckman said that the 6.9 acres of Stoneleigh were still on the table as a last resort.
Wednesday’s vote would have allowed for the township to draw up an ordinance to make 1860 Montgomery a Class 1 Historic Resource. The vote on the ordinance would have taken place next month. Some commissioners said they believed it was possible for the district to preserve part of the Clairmont building, such as part of the facade. Some commissioners said they thought that they would be able to prevent LMSD from building on Stoneleigh because they still have to approve the Districts plans at 1860. In theory, the commissioners could stop the district from building at 1860 if they still planned to acquire part of Stoneleigh
Tensions were high during the meeting and the outcome was unclear until the final vote took place at 10:40 pm. Before the vote, four members of the committee expressed that they were undecided during their comments or that they would simply wait until the vote itself to make their final determination known. President Bernheim cast what was essentially the deciding vote when he voted nay. Just moments before he had presented a plan that would have postponed the vote on reclassification to a later date. Voting yes to the main motion in question would have has a similar outcome where commissioners would have another month to decide on reclassification.
Some commissioners said that there has been misinformation, some from the district, that has led to the current views of members of the community.