Villanova Expansion Advances After An Emotional Late-Night Debate

villanova university main campus

A view of the main campus at Villanova by Alertjean via Wikimedia

At 1:10 a.m. this morning, the Radnor Township Board of Commissioners, by a vote of 5-1, introduced an amendment to the township zoning code that would permit Villanova University to proceed toward implementing a massive expansion program. The vote followed more than three hours of discussion involving the board, the professional staff of the township, and members of the community.

At times the debate became emotional and acrimonious. At one point Commissioner Jim Higgins had to intercede during a heated exchange between Commissioner John Fisher and Township Manager Robert A. Zienkowski. Zienkowski took offense to Fisher’s suggestion that the township planning staff was not up to the task of dealing with the university’s proposal. Fisher was advocating for Radnor to hire an independent planner for the project.

The “conversation” between the two officials escalated to a shouting match when Fisher “reminded” Zienkowski that he did not have standing to participate in a debate among the commissioners.

The meeting at the Radnor Municipal Building started at 7 last night, but the commissioners did not even begin to discuss the Villanova proposal until after 10.

For the evening’s opening act, the commissioners unanimously agreed to rename a park in honor of Radnor’s military veterans.

The mood in the packed-to-capacity meeting room became less cordial when the board discussed a proposal to implement a user fee that would fund repairs and improvements for the township’s storm water management facilities. Proponents of the new fee frequently reiterated that it was a user fee not a tax, and more importantly, tax-exempt institutions (of which Villanova is by far the largest) would not be exempt from paying their “fair share.” The board approved the user fee by a vote of 5-2.

Most of the several dozen Radnor residents, who came to express their objection to the Villanova proposal, were already perturbed with the prospect of not being heard until after midnight. Their opposition was only enhanced after hearing attorney Nick Canglia’s presentation on behalf of the school.

Then attorney David Onorato and planner E. Van Rieker came to the podium representing Friends to Preserve Radnor. Canglia briefly attempted to rebut their arguments, but all seven commissioners were clearly impressed by Onorato’s and Rieker’s presentation, which punched large holes in the Villanova plan.

As Monday night turned into Tuesday morning, the neighbors finally got to have their say. The Villanova proposal was not without its defenders, and almost all of the opposition acknowledged the benefits of having a school like Villanova in their community.