Welcome to Narberth Borough’s webpage for information regarding Borough owned property at 201 Sabine Avenue and the process currently underway for exploring strategies to maximize the beneficial use of the entire site.
- Any alterations must encourage the expansion of recreational open space on the property (currently approximately 20%). See Borough Council Resolution 2020-009 here.
- On December 1, 2021, Borough Council considered five options for the property. See the presentation here. All but two of the options have since been set aside for lack of fit with the community’s goals, or lack of feasibility. Only Option 1 and Option 4 are currently under consideration.
This summarizes the current status of these five options:
Option 1 Maximize Parks and Open Space — this option is still under consideration
Option 2 Retain Part of Existing Building and Expand Parks and Open Space – Borough Council decided that it is necessary to demolish the buildings at some point in the future so this option is no longer under consideration.
Option 3 Seek Proposals from Community Organizations – Borough Council sought but did not receive any viable proposals so this option is not currently under consideration.
Option 4 Keep Local Childcare and Expand Parks and Open Space – Borough Council has considered a variety of service providers, and has decided to move forward with the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority to develop a non-binding RFP to determine the viability of this option.
Option 5 Prioritize Revenue and Modestly Increase Parks/Open Space – Borough Council rejected the sale of any portion of the property and also rejected any significant development on the property so this option is no longer under consideration.
Why are the buildings being demolished?
Council decided at a meeting on December 1, 2021 to demolish the building complex. This decision was made for three basic reasons:
- Fiscal stewardship. Presently, the Borough manages a half a dozen commercial rentals. While the Borough in the short term brings in revenues in excess of expenses of about $250,000 per year, this represents a net long-term economic loss to the Borough in light of the significant maintenance needs of these aging institutional buildings. Retaining the buildings would burden the Borough with debt that will not be recouped by its revenue generation.
- Administrative integrity. You will not see many, if any, municipalities in the business of operating commercial rental properties. Professional real estate management companies own large portfolios and balance risks; a small Borough does not have that capacity. The complicated history of this property helps explain how the Borough got into this position. However, now that the Borough has the ability to extricate itself, Borough Council and our administration believe we have a responsibility to do so.
- Freeing space for beneficial public uses. The buildings and their related parking and other impervious areas consume about 80% of the land. As long as the Borough maintains the status quo of renting the buildings out for commercial use, it will be impossible to expand beneficial public uses of the lot. Borough Council’s decision to demolish the buildings is the reason we have the ability to expand parks and open space, and it is directly in service of Council’s 2020 Open Space Resolution.
To summarize: The Borough has made an important decision about 201 Sabine Avenue: to decommission and remove the buildings and surface parking lot. Borough Council has made the expansion of parks and green space possible with this decision.
When will the buildings be demolished?
The Borough faces constraints and challenges that limit our ability to act. The resolution of these issues will affect how quickly we can proceed:
- Lease obligations. The Borough has tenants and leases. The Borough has introduced lease terms that give us more flexibility than we had in the past with respect to ending those leases, but there is still a termination period that must be observed. The Borough at this point has not notified any leaseholders that their leases are being terminated, nor are there any imminent plans to do so.
- Presence of non-profit, community-serving organizations. There are non-profit organizations that operate in those buildings, and residents of the Borough have made it clear that they would prefer to keep those uses in the Borough if possible. Wonderspring has been providing high quality early childhood education for 24 years in Narberth Borough. Wonderspring’s Board and administration have expressed a desire to remain in Narberth. If they were to have to leave, it would impact many families, including Narberth families, and this is not a prospect that Council takes lightly. RES, the consulting firm that conducted a community outreach program during 2020, found that the community is concerned about the potential loss of non-profit organizations, and specifically concerned about losing the childcare.
- Demolition Cost. The Borough’s engineering firm provided a budgetary estimate for the demolition of the 201 Sabine complex in February. This is the cost to remove the buildings, including hazardous materials abatement, and to fill, grade and stabilize the site. It does not include the cost of any park improvements. The cost is $1,281,572.60. If the Borough is required to borrow money to do this, that will increase the cost. The Borough has taken the initial step to obtain state RACP funding, which might be used in part for this work, but has not secured such funding at this time.
- Operating revenue. The Borough has obtained 4-5% of its annual operating revenues from the net proceeds of renting the 201 Sabine complex for many years. While the Borough would no longer have to pay for the deferred maintenance on the property that makes it a long-term fiscal negative, this current revenue will be lost when the buildings are demolished, and unless the Borough makes a plan to replace that revenue, it will need to cut services or raise taxes.
If the Borough were to both forego the existing operating revenue and have to borrow funds to demolish the complex, it would require roughly a 13% annual increase in property taxes in order to maintain current Borough services. This does not include the cost of any park improvements.
To summarize: The Borough faces significant financial challenges in terms of the cost of the work itself and to plan for how to handle the operating revenue shortfall that will arise. In addition, the Borough has obligations to our tenants. Finally, both Council and Borough residents believe it would be a benefit to the community to keep Wonderspring in the Borough.
Option 4 seeks to balance competing priorities and needs. Any potential building could house Wonderspring on the ground floor, and may include residential use on upper floors. Many residents have expressed support for age-qualified housing (aka “senior housing”), but whether a feasible project that incorporates senior housing will be available is unknown. Parking for any such residential use would be required to be provided for underground off Montgomery Avenue. Option 4 would only be considered if it could accomplish two things:
First, a project would have to allow the Borough to expand open and recreational space. These diagrams illustrate how Option 4 could expand open and recreational space and better locate the green areas to serve residents.
This illustrates the current use ratio. Green is park and recreational area, and orange is commercial development. The park (green) borders Montgomery Avenue. The commercial development (orange) is adjacent to residential blocks.
This illustrates the use ratio contemplated under Option 4. There is substantially more park and recreational area (green), and it is adjacent to the residential blocks. The building that could be built under Option 4 (blue) is located on Montgomery Avenue away from the residential neighborhood.
Second, a project would have to produce revenue to the Borough in the form of a land lease, sometimes called a ground lease. The Borough would continue to own the land, but a developer, in exchange for paying the Borough to lease the land, would build, maintain and manage the structure for the term of the lease, which is generally a very long time. Arrangements like that are common and can allow public entities to achieve goals that they would otherwise struggle to meet on their own.
A balanced approach of this sort is appealing because it has the potential to address some of the challenges already described, while at the same time allowing the Borough to greatly expand and improve park and recreational facilities. Borough Council believes we have an obligation to get more and better information about the feasibility and benefits to the Borough of a project like this before ruling anything out. Accordingly, the Borough has decided to work with the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority in a non-binding process that will allow us to explore the feasibility of Option 4 and produce more concrete options for further discussion.
Borough Council worked with Real Estate Strategies, Inc, to assist the Borough with public participation, and to assist, if necessary, with the creation and publication of a non-binding Request for Proposals and evaluation of any proposals received through that process.
The Borough has begun by holding meetings to gather information about the property and is currently working on organizing that information before proceeding to draft an RFP. Certain information presented at such meetings is made available on this website.
If you want to read more background information about the property please read this brief paper.
2020 Anonymized Narberth Resident Survey Responses
2021 Presentation – 201 Sabine Options
|Links to Documents|
|Leases||Wonderspring, Wonderspring Lease Extension| Wonderspring-Admin | Narberth Community Food Bank | Pure DME, Pure DME 1st Lease Extension, Pure DME 2nd Lease Extension | Lavner Camps | Dixon Leonard Dixon Leonard Extension|
|Financial Reports||2022 Third Quarter | 2022 Second Quarter | 2022 First Quarter |2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 ||
|Council President Forum 10.27||Link to agenda | Link to video | Link to slides|
|Facility Evaluation||Link to document|
|Public Participation Summary Documents||RES Presentation | RES Memo | RES Resident Letters| RES Non-Resident Letters|