The Upper Dublin Planning Commission was presented with a sketch plan for a new set of properties in the Dresher Common at Tuesday night's meeting, ending with developer BET Investments ultimately agreeing to re-examine the proposal.
BET Investments, represented by engineer Peter Clelland, Charles Guttenplan, BET’s land planning consultant, and attorney Michael Yanoff, presented a plan for four buildings on the 9.5 acre site, located between Susquehanna Road and Limekiln Pike. BET currently owns the property.
The most contested proposed building was a four-story, 121-room hotel, to be situated on the northwest portion of the lot, below Sunrise Assisted Living. However, a CVS pharmacy, restaurant and office building were also proposed.
"The CVS pharmacy is proposed at 12,900 sq.ft., and the office (9,600 sq.ft.) is an addition to the back of the Clime House on Susquehanna Road," Rick Barton, Upper Dublin Director of Code Enforcement, told Patch. "The proposed restaurant is 3,600 sq.ft. and it has an attached café of 1,200 sq.ft. with a drive-thru. A total of 298 parking spaces are shown on the plan."
The commission first reviewed the history of the zoning codes for that location. The land is currently zoned A-residential but an overlay put in place over a decade ago allows for some commercial.
"Some time ago in the 90s, there was a Dresher overlay created for this property, the Dreshertown Shopping Center, and a number of other parcels across Dreshertown Road," said commission chair Wesley Wolf. "And the intent of that was to create a transition [from commercial to residential]."
However, Wolf said that the proposal did not fit the commission's desire to gracefully blend residential to commercial.
"The concept of putting in a four story hotel adjacent to a residential area, I wouldn't think would be in the spirit of the current overlay, or even the recommendations of the comprehensive plan," said Wolf. "I'll be very clear on that, it wasn't the intent of the overlay … I don't know how much thought went into this plan."
Wolf said a major concern was traffic congestion, but Yanoff disagreed.
"We did put a lot of thought into this," Yanoff said. "It is not a constant flow of traffic in and out like [retail] where you're concerned about adverse impact on the neighbors. Hotels that I go to don't necessarily have people streaming in and out."
Yanoff said that each of the four subplots on the property is zoned for 750 car visits a day, and that developers did not anticipate greater traffic than the 3,000 total visits permitted by code.
Yanoff also told the board that were few locations for a hotel in Upper Dublin, and that sites such as the office park were not attractive due to their location inside the flood zone.
In addition, Yanoff expressed frustration that the township had not clearly stated what they wanted in terms of "transitional development."
Some commission members expressed similar concerns.
"What exactly is the idea of a transitional use? If this isn't it, what else is there?" asked commission member Christopher Duerr. "What is the thing that should go right next to residential? Are you going to have retail, are you going to put the restaurant there?"
Commission member Hillary Hartman suggested that a dual-use development, such as apartment buildings with retail on the bottom floor, might be the best option. However, BET said that a plan incorporating this type of building had been presented to the board in the past, and was found to not be a good fit.
"The number of developing units that was required to make that work economically, the density that it required, was not something that the board was sympathetic to," said Guttenplan.
BET does currently have a prior design approved for construction at the site, for two restaurants and additional parking. The proposal was approved in a court battle in 2005, but BET representatives said that the plan is no longer economically viable, and that a hotel would be needed to drive traffic to the other businesses.
By the end of presentations, Wolf was still not convinced.
"It's a parking lot, a roadway and some buildings, and I'd expect more," said Wolf.
A number of residents used the community input section to speak out against the proposal.
"If we look at the Dresher triangle as the hub that runs central between the Fort Washington interchange and the Willow Grove interchange of the Turnpike … while the slip ramp is a wonderful thing, it only goes westbound, every eastbound bit of traffic out of this is going to go down Dreshertown Road," said Omar Bounds, of Dresher. "Dreshertown Road is already a cattle chute."
"I've been a resident for more than nine years now, and all I've seen time and time again is Dreshertown Road becoming more congested," said Joshua Ganz of Bantry Drive. "I'm all in favor of smart business, [but] this was taken from St. Louis, Missouri; Eugene, Oregon; Binghamton, New York—it could have been anywhere, and plopped right down in Dresher. I respect the fact that you have a business, and there's a reason why you put the buildings where you put them, but this is an insult to Dresher."
"I was the fifth owner in the development, and when we bought there, there was no overlay, we weren't particularly happy with the overlay," said Martin Graff, of Ringneck Loop. "Where's the respect for the residents of this neighborhood? Do their profits come before the neighborhood? I don't see it that way."
Asked by Wolf what the next step was, Yanoff said BET would reconsider its plans and options.
"We appreciate [the residents'] time and comments. We'll have to huddle and make a decision," said Yanoff.