It has been 10 years in the planning, but the Town Center West development project at Swarthmore College seems to be moving forward after the Borough Council gave final approval to the project last month in a 5-1 vote. PennDot is currently reviewing the college’s traffic plans and expects to issue a permit soon.
“We review it and vet it and make sure that we’re comfortable with it before we actually issue them a permit to construct it and we’re in that process now,” said Fran Hanney, PennDOT’s assistant district traffic engineer for Traffic Services.
Council members and college leadership see the project as a positive way to create jobs and increase tax revenue.
“Town Center West will provide the opportunity for closer, stronger connections between borough residents and the college community,” said Maurice Eldridge, vice president for College and Community Relations, in an email. “The inn and restaurant will contribute new tax revenues to the borough, it will generate jobs, it will provide new retail and dining options, and it will foster increased foot traffic to the borough’s existing commercial district.”
The development will consist of a 40-room hotel facility with an 80-seat restaurant within the hotel between the open spaces of Field House Lanes, which runs parallel to Route 320/Chester Road.
Yet some longtime residents have created a coalition of opposition to the project because it threatens to make Swarthmore no longer a “dry” town because the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has issued Town Center West a liquor license specifically designed for the hotel and residents say this is a violation of the borough’s 2011 referendum against selling liquor in the municipality; a referendum that passed in a tight 499-428 vote.
“There are many members of the citizenry of Swarthmore, currently a ‘dry’ town, who are opposed to the building of a Swarthmore College Inn serving alcohol due to the potential for various problems that can be caused by the drinking of alcohol, such as public drunkenness, DUI driving, underage drinking, just to name a few,” said Robert Smalls, a resident in the coalition.
Concerned Swarthmore residents are preparing to fight the liquor license in an appeal case scheduled for next Monday in Delaware County Common Pleas Court before Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon. Small said the coalition has a few expert witnesses who will talk about the problems with alcohol the area has had.
“Swarthmore voted, in a 2011 referendum, to keep our town ‘dry’ but we find we still have to go to court to enforce the decision of the citizens,” said Smalls.
Eldridge says the 2011 referendum has no standing regarding the college’s liquor license because of a referendum voted on in support of the college’s particular project in 2001. The vote was tight even then, 797-711.
“A voter referendum in 2001 approved liquor and wine to be served in a restaurant in a hotel on college property,” Eldridge said. “The (state) Liquor Control Board has ruled the 2011 referendum has no bearing on the 2001 vote,” said Eldridge. “Town Center West’s carefully defined liquor license will be the only one in the borough, which means Swarthmore will otherwise remain a ‘dry’ town.”