St. Charles Project
Frequently Asked Questions
Over the past several months, Main Line Health and its team have been meeting with community members to share our proposed plan for the St. Charles campus, articulate the project's vision, and listen to ideas for the space. The following frequently asked questions reflect questions we have heard from the community and are continuously updated as we continue to listen. Please visit our feedback page to ask the project team a question.
What are you proposing to develop?
Main Line Health and its partners propose to develop the iconic St. Charles Seminary property into a vibrant and sustainable “health and wellness village” that will benefit and support the Lower Merion Township area for years to come.
Is this plan finalized?
Our proposed concept master plan is still very much in the planning phase. In conducting listening sessions, and understanding and balancing the Township’s and Main Line Health’s needs, we thought it was valuable to share an initial plan for the community to consider. We are continuing to meet with members of the community to listen to their ideas for the space and we look forward to incorporating feedback to create a health and wellness village that will benefit the Lower Merion Township and surrounding communities.
What is a health and wellness village?
Health and wellness villages are being developed nationally and internationally as the focus on population health is turning to preventative care and active living. A health and wellness village is a mixed-use setting that is anchored by a healthcare provider. Some of the services generally include healthcare, education, residential, fitness and wellness, and social activities. This health and wellness village goes beyond physical wellness and extends into multiple dimensions of wellness to create a community committed to holistic wellbeing. The concept creates a health-conscious environment that reduces the risk of chronic, preventable diseases and helps close the gap on disparities of care with expanded community programming.
What type of benefits will a health and wellness village have in Lower Merion Township and surrounding communities?
A health and wellness village offers several benefits to residents in Lower Merion Township and surrounding communities – for instance promoting active living, caring for an aging population, and expanding the innovative care provided by Main Line Health.
Expanding Innovative Care. While the health system industry is facing increasing pressures, the health and wellness village will help expand Main Line Health’s growing services onto the St. Charles campus and enhance the system’s ability to provide leading care to Lower Merion and surrounding communities. Our proposed plan will also create new space for current and prospective Main Line Health employees to live, which will greatly improve Main Line Health’s ability to attract and retain exceptional clinical, technical, and administrative team members.
Caring for an Aging Population. Main Line Health has found that there is a growing need for senior care in our communities - for instance, the number of people over the age of 65 in Main Line Health’s service area is expected to reach 300,000 by 2023. With an increasing demand for senior living, our proposed health and wellness village would provide comprehensive, exceptional healthcare near both housing and services for aging Lower Merion residents to live and thrive within their beloved community for years to come.
Promoting Active Living. With their focus on healthy living and providing an environment that supports healthy living behaviors, health and wellness villages create a health-conscious environment that reduces the risk of chronic, preventable diseases and helps close the gap on disparities of care with expanded community programming. In total, our proposed plan includes a pedestrian bridge to connect the St. Charles campus to Lankenau Medical Center and dedicates 4.5 miles for pedestrian and bike paths that tap into the beauty and grandeur along the site.
Will this project require any zoning changes?
The St. Charles property is not currently zoned for all of the uses being considered in the proposed concept master plan. Main Line Health is aware of this and understands the importance for the community to realize and experience the benefits of the proposed changes. As we proceed through the community engagement process, collecting comments and feedback, and addressing the concerns of the community, we will be working closely with Lower Merion Township to prepare an appropriate zoning amendment which if approved by the Board of Commissioners would allow us to build a health and wellness village to serve Lower Merion and the surrounding community. As a part of this process, we are actively seeking out comments and feedback from residents for the proposed uses on the campus.
When would construction begin?
It is still premature at this stage to comment on when construction will begin. The Seminary will be operating on-site through the graduating class of 2024 and plans to vacate the site by the end of the summer of 2024. In an ideal situation, MLH would like to be in a position to begin its development work so as not to have to ‘mothball’ the existing historic buildings, which will contribute to accelerated deterioration, nor would they want the 73 acre campus to be seen as an opportunity for people to loiter or trespass. The first step in this process is to obtain support to proceed with the zoning amendment, and there is much work to do following that process.
Why does the site need to be developed?
As you are aware, the Archdiocese will be moving from the property in the summer of 2024. Not developing the space and leaving the current property vacant could cause serious challenges including building aging, degradation, and other community concerns associated with an unsecured campus.
The buildings will require significant rehabilitation in the next few years due to the age and condition of the structures. It is not economically feasible for Main Line Health to just rehabilitate the two historic buildings without partnering with others to further develop the grounds and the other proposed structures which will financially support this work over the phasing of the project.
Rooted in the belief that health and wellness are integral to the future of Lower Merion, Main Line Health is proposing a plan which supports what is economically needed to unlock the St. Charles property into a Health and Wellness Village. It is important to note that the current historic structures are not suitable nor cost-effective for the medical office buildings and other intended uses Main Line Health requires.
How will you adapt the property to accomplish your vision of a Health and Wellness Village?
Once approval to commence the zoning amendment process, at every stage of the project, we will continue to work closely with the Township to bring forward a plan that is informed by their and the communities input and meets the guiding principles of our design team to determine how portions of the property will be appropriately adapted and reused.
Will the project be open to the public? Will it only be accessible to Lower Merion residents?
Our health and wellness village will be open to the public and accessible to the wider Lower Merion township and surrounding communities - including visitors at Lankenau Medical Center that may come for services on the St. Charles property. Our vision for creating a health and wellness village is to create an environment that fosters healthy living and encourages an active lifestyle for all to benefit from.
How much of the property are you proposing to develop?
Through our proposed development, 78% of the campus will remain open and active space or non-vertically developed space. We are guided by the vision of enhancing the iconic and natural beauty of the St. Charles campus. We intend to preserve open spaces, respect community viewsheds, and finally, strengthen connectivity to the surrounding neighborhood.
Once developed, what are the plans for accessing the site?
Before our proposed plan is finalized, the project team will coordinate with LMT, PennDOT, and the City of Philadelphia to ensure the most optimal traffic planning and site access design. At this time, the plan proposes that the primary vehicular entrance to the site will be a new entrance on Lancaster Avenue aligning with the signalized intersection at Lankenau Drive. The existing entrance on Wynnewood Road will continue to serve as an access point to the site, but will primarily serve the residents of the Upper and Lower Campus Buildings. Based on recent feedback, we will be evaluating secure access at the entrance for the residents of those two buildings. In addition, the plan proposes the creation of a new right-in, right-out on City Avenue to alleviate traffic flow.
How is the team keeping accessibility in mind as they approach the concept plan for the St. Charles property?
Accessibility is important to Main Line Health and the full concept plan will be designed with accessibility in mind. The entire campus will be ADA accessible, and resources will be available to help those requiring support navigate between the campus and the Lankenau Medical Center.
Will there be any changes made to the streets surrounding the St. Charles campus (Wynnewood Road, City Avenue, Lancaster Avenue) such as additional traffic lights, stop signs, or calming measures?
As a part of our master concept plan for St. Charles, we will and must comply with all local and state regulations and seek solutions to mitigate the impact of traffic on the surrounding area by working with PennDOT, Lower Merion Township, and the City of Philadelphia.
We expect that as part of the development at St. Charles there will be additional roadway improvements implemented to support the mitigation of traffic on the roadway network such as adding turning and deceleration lanes, and signal improvements.
How will this project encourage alternative uses of transportation beyond cars?
As one of our guiding principles, we believe it is critical to improve connectivity across the campus and the Lower Merion Township and surrounding communities. As part of our proposed concept plan, a pedestrian bridge will connect the campus to the Lankenau Medical Center, creating access to health and wellness services. We will also work with the appropriate parties to evaluate how to improve the crossing of the campus to the Overbrook train station.
Additionally, there will be 4.5 miles dedicated for pedestrians and connections to the existing bike paths on the site. These paths will also lead to local SEPTA transit making it easier for visitors, employees, and residents to travel to and from the Lower Merion community than what currently exists.
What type of parking will be available for residents and visitors on the site?
There will be ample parking provided through below-structure parking garages for all of the buildings. We are proposing surface parking to support the proposed Senior Living in the Upper Campus building to serve the anticipated low volume traffic of the residents, employees, and visitors of this building. We believe the parking provided will mitigate the impact additional cars have on the surrounding neighborhood.
How much space will be dedicated to senior living?
Main Line Health is committed to the health and wellness of our aging community. In 2019, Main Line Health projected that its treatment of 65+ adults would grow nearly 17%, with the 65 to 75 age group specifically expected to grow nearly 58% by 2024. To help service this growing need, approximately 220 units will be dedicated to a mix of villas, independent and assisted living, and memory care will be associated with the Upper Campus building.
Are there any plans to address physical wellbeing on the site? Will there be recreational areas, exercise facilities, playing fields, etc.?
One of the most important guiding principles for this project is to promote active living. The goal is to create an environment that fosters healthy lifestyles, which is known to reduce the risk of some of the most preventable chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis and bone fractures, hypertension, respiratory disease, and stroke. For instance, we are proposing 4.5 miles dedicated to pedestrian and bike paths open to the community. MLH would also intend to host their other healthy initiatives such as Walk with a Doc, Nutrition, and Healthy Eating education utilizing produce from the Deaver Farm on the Lankenau Campus all of which would be available to the community.
At this time, we are not proposing playing fields on the property but have heard from some in the community that there is a need for them in the Township. We will work with the Township Commissioners and Township Staff to determine if fields are appropriate on the property
What will the retail be like on the property? Will the retail be open to the public?
Retail is a key component to successful health and wellness villages, but needs to be targeted to the needs of the health and wellness village and the surrounding community. One of the components of a health and wellness campus is providing supporting services to the campus residents and visitors. Our proposed plan includes space for boutique retail and dining options along the promenade of the property, as well as supporting services to serve the campus residents, employees, and nearby community. We are very interested in hearing your thoughts and ideas.
As a part of our ongoing community engagement, we want the programming for these retail partners to include ideas from the community. This may also include potential commercial users from local organizations. The retail will be open to the public that visits the campus.
Will there be any affordable housing as a part of this plan?
We plan to engage in active conversations with Lower Merion Township to better understand the housing needs of the community that could potentially be accommodated within this health and wellness village through our residential opportunities.
Will existing trees be preserved through this proposed plan?
Our project team includes a nationally recognized landscape architecture firm who will continue to work with the design team to preserve the existing trees on the property to the greatest extent possible. An arborist has analyzed, cataloged, and tagged every tree on the property to determine age, species, and general health.
What type of greenery will be introduced to the property under this proposed plan?
We will work with the Township on the appropriate trees to be planted on the property. Our intention would be to use native species to the land and are committed to fostering a sustainable and biodiverse environment on the campus. Landscaping will also be utilized on the property boundaries to create natural boundaries and buffers.
Can you describe how the project team will address stormwater management?
We understand and have heard concerns about stormwater runoff behind the Upper Campus and the impact on Cobbs Creek. The plan will comply with all stormwater management standards. As the plan progresses, the team will be engaged to bring our leading sustainability standards to the St. Charles property. Together, the partners will work in close collaboration with the Township to ensure sustainability is paramount to this project and have as our goal to go above and beyond what is required.
What are some of the sustainability efforts and features that will be part of this project?
Core to the development of this space is the long-term sustainability and viability of the location. As part of this proposed concept master plan, we are studying a variety of sustainability measures that are not only good for this project but good for the community. For instance, the team is currently exploring ways to eliminate on-site fossil fuels, maximize the use of renewables such as solar power, or through the use of ground source heat pumps, creating district heating and cooling loops, and developing specialized water reuse strategies. Our team has experience bringing these solutions to projects and we anticipate that the St. Charles campus will be a leading example of sustainable solutions in the region and among health and wellness villages.
Each of the partners engaged in the St. Charles project has a wealth of experience in sustainable design and planning. For instance, sustainability has been at the core of Hines’ business since its founding in 1957, which was just recently recognized when they were named ESG Firm of the Year at the 2021 Global PERE Awards for its efforts in leading the industry in the decarbonization of the built environment. Main Line Health has also embraced new sustainability measures and brought on a sustainability consultant and team that are supporting all of Main Line Health’s properties.
How will this project impact enrollment at the Lower Merion School District?
We understand that residents in the Lower Merion School District may have concerns about the impact of this new campus on the school population. A recent demographic study conducted on behalf of the Lower Merion School District found that multi-family housing units, such as our proposed residential mix of studio, one and two-bedroom units, typically generate fewer school children as compared to detached single-family homes. We are continuing our analysis of this based on community feedback.
What is the future of the St. Martin’s chapel?
St. Martin’s Chapel is a beautiful building and is situated in a lovely setting on the property. We are exploring different uses for that space which supports our health and wellness village concept and welcome the community's input.
Will there be security on the campus?
Main Line Health has a well-established and comprehensive security and operations plan for all its campus facilities. Main Line Health will carry this focus on safety and quality forward to its new MLH buildings and St. Charles campus. As well, each building will also develop a plan for the security of its specific building and surrounding area.
Will this development make this property taxable?
The St. Charles property has been tax-exempt for many years and remains tax-exempt at this time. Based on current development plans, it is expected that portions of the property will be owned and operated by for-profit users, thus allowing those portions of the property to become taxable. Portions of the property that continue to be used by nonprofit users for exempt purposes are expected to remain nontaxable.
How would this mixed-use impact tax revenues and offsets/benefits for existing residents?
The project team has commissioned a fiscal impact study that will highlight the various revenue and tax streams produced through the redevelopment of the campus that will benefit the Township and the School District. Currently, the site is tax-exempt, as such any redevelopment of the campus into a for-profit use will be fiscally accretive to the Township, School District, and community at large.
What is the background of the seminary?
St. Charles is a Roman Catholic seminary based in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania. Established in 1832, the campus comprises approximately 73 acres of land upon which sits two primary structures: the seminary itself, and the accompanying Ryan Memorial Library complex, which also houses some offices, dormitories, and administrative space for the seminary’s operations. The campus features distinctive architecture and landscaped grounds that have been generally gated off from the surrounding communities since its inception. The structures are architecturally striking buildings. The campus features a significant, sloping topography that descends from the northeast to the southwest, creating a “valley” around Lancaster Avenue.
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