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The Wistar Institute's plans to sell a large tract of suburban land to housing developers is drawing protest from residents of the affluent Montgomery County suburb where the land is located. In October, a 33-acre plot of land in Lower Merion Township and a palatial mansion known as "After All" were given to Wistar by the trustees of the estate of Jadwija Edwards, who died in 1988. The estate is one of the last undeveloped parcels of land in Lower Merion, a town located just outside Philadelphia's western boundary. Opponents of Wistar's plans to sell part of the land say the tract should remain as open, undeveloped land. They also claim that the plans go against the spirit of Edwards' will. Edwards, who was a Polish countess and was married to international contractor Arthur Edwards, specified in her will that her land and house, which together are worth more than $5 million, be given to a non-profit educational institution, hospital or home for the disadvantaged. The trustees of the Edwards estate, Center City lawyer Andrew Young and broker Robert Thomas -- who is also a member of the Wistar Board of Mangers -- were given full discretion in deciding what group would receive the gift. After reviewing more than 25 applications for the gift, Young and Thomas decided to give the estate to Wistar. Wistar's lawyer, Martha Manning, said yesterday that the institute will set up the Arthur Edwards Center for Molecular Medicine using the house and 10.7 acres of the land. The center will teach doctors the latest techniques for treating cancer. In order to fund the renovation of the house and endow the center, the remaining 22.6 acres will be sold to a group of five developers who have proposed building 24 single-family homes on the site, Manning added. Neither Wistar nor the lawyer for the developers would divulge the conditions of the sale, but the developers' lawyer described it as "a multi-million dollar deal." Several neighbors of the estate said yesterday that Wistar's plan to sell two-thirds of the land to developers is contrary to the spirit of Edwards' will. They said development would ruin the beauty of the land, which is home to several rare types of trees and several deer. "It's a unique property," said Leo Vernon, who lives 300 yards from the entrance to the estate and is helping to lead a campaign by a group called Friends of After All to stop the development. "To see it developed as the Wistar people and developers wish to see it developed would be just a crime," Vernon said. "I'm sure Mrs. Edwards never planned for two-thirds of the estate to be used for a checkerboard housing development." Other neighbors claimed there is a possible conflict of interest involved in giving the property to Wistar. Estate trustee Thomas serves on Wistar's board. In addition, Trustee Young's law firm, Stradley, Ronon, Stevens and Young, is representing the trustees and will receive legal fees. Wistar lawyer Manning said the late countess was aware that Thomas served on Wistar's board when she wrote her will and made him a trustee of her estate. Edwin Boynton, a lawyer at Young's firm who is acting as counsel for the estate's trustees, said that Young's law firm would receive "significant legal fees," but added that he saw no conflict of interest. In order to keep the property, Wistar must get the land rezoned for institutional use, and must win approval for their development project from the Lower Merion Planning Commission. Otherwise the estate will revert to the trustees of the Edwards' estate, who will then have the option of giving the property to another charity or selling it and giving the proceeds to a Philadelphia-area hospital. On November 2, the planning commission refused to allow the development on the land, saying that putting houses on the land would have an adverse environmental impact. The developers -- Henry Belber, Bernard Dureding, John Fuchs, Todd Pohlig and Sherman Reed -- have appealed to the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners. A decision is due on Wednesday night. Board of Commissioners President Charlie Ward said yesterday that it is unlikely the board will allow the development. "We're totally opposed to that type of development in Lower Merion," Ward said. "We'd love to see it left as a parkland. That would be the ideal solution. Barring that, we would just like to be able to preserve as much of the space as we can." Parker Wilson, a Norristown lawyer representing the developers, said that if the commissioners vote to stop the development, the developers will appeal to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. In addition to the real estate, Wistar may get as much as $2 million in residual property from the Edwards estate, including stocks, bonds and bank accounts. The trustees will decide how much of the money should go to Wistar and how much should go to four other charities that they have selected as beneficiaries.

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