LOWER MERION – Commissioners of Lower Merion have approved a project that will transform the three sites from Bala Plaza to Bala Cynwyd over the next two decades.

Currently, Bala Plaza 1 and 3 contain three office buildings surrounded by parking lots. Two Bala Plaza has two buildings located at 333 City Ave. on Decker Blvd.

At its last meeting, the commissioners of Lower Merion approved two different motions. The first was the preliminary plan that outlines the overall project. The second approval was for a Developer Agreement, something Lower Merion doesn’t typically use. The developer’s agreement allows the life of the work to extend beyond a normal five-year expiration to 20 years.

According to the plans, the project will be divided into two phases. Work will include the addition of parks, walking paths, apartments, offices, retail and other amenities. One of these facilities would consist of an amphitheater.

Phil Rosenzweig, one of developer Tishman Speyer’s attorneys, said they would even be open to discussing adding a skateboard park to the site.

Rosenzweig commented on the skate park in response to several residents speaking out in favor of the township adding a skateboard park somewhere in Lower Merion during an unrelated segment of the meeting.

When fully built, the plan calls for the construction of 13 new structures, including five new apartment buildings with nearly 500 units of commercial space on the ground floor.

There will also be three office buildings above a structured parking lot, two commercial retail buildings, a 70-unit single-use residential building, a hotel, and a structured parking lot.

The Bala Plaza 2 site, where the Saks Fifth Avenue store is located, will have a new building with 190 residential units.

In early October, the township’s building and planning committee tabled its final recommendation on the plan to continue communication between the developer and the township.

As part of the final approval, the township added some minor changes to its conditions of approval. These new terms include the conversion of some parking spaces to on-street parking along the new Llanberris Road extension. The second condition is that if the location of an existing basketball court is maintained, the greenspace area must be extended from the Llanberris extension to the courts. This new green space would eliminate parking, which would be moved to the street.

Rosenzweig said they agreed to the new terms. However, township staff told them that an artificial turf product could be used for green spaces and wanted this specified in the terms.

Commissioner Dan Bernheim said he could not support the developer’s agreement or the preliminary plan because there is no way of knowing what other conditions might change during the project’s 20-year lifespan.

“The stumbling block that I had from the start and still have now is how long this projects,” Bernheim said.

Bernheim said he believes each phase should go through the full land development process.

“It should come in the different phases, and then whatever council is sitting here five years from now would have the opportunity to go through land development,” he said.

Board chairman Todd Sinai said he supports the project because it’s much better than what the township’s zoning code allows, which he described as getting “a bunch of apartments and no green space”.