Brandolini Companies, owner of the Dreshertown Shopping Plaza, has spent the past several years seeking approval to build a residential complex at that location, bringing designs and redesigns before Upper Dublin Township.
After Tuesday's township Planning Commission meeting, it appears that Brandolini will have to wait at least one more month, and make at least one more redesign, before moving forward.
That was the result of Tuesday night's meeting, as dozens of concerned Upper Dublin residents packed the township's main meeting room to hear the exchange between Brandolini's representatives and the seven member Planning Commission.
Brandolini laid down its claim that it had been patient and diligent in the process, and had worked to meet the township's requests in every redesign.
"Originally, there was a unit count of 250 units, in a four-story building, and the feedback we initially heard was 'Wow, that's a lot, it's too tall, too much density, too close to the road,'" said Brandolini President Fred Snow.
Snow then added that a second redesign failed to be approved due to zoning regulations.
"We came back in [with a third plan], that had 140 units—we pushed it off of the road, and lowered it from four stories to three stories," Snow said. "At that time we were told specifically that [the township] would prefer not to consider any zoning request until the comprehensive plan was done."
The wording of the township's comprehensive plan, implemented last fall to give township entities forward-thinking direction when making decisions, was used by both sides at the meeting.
Marc Kaplan, attorney for Brandolini, read from the plan and pointed out that the complex specifically met the goal of encouraging mixed-use development, and that less than 1 percent of the township's land area is zoned for multi-family uses.
Planning commission member Jeffrey Albert applauded Kaplan for his reading of the comprehensive plan, but stated that Kaplan specifically left one line out.
"The last sentence you didn't read ... it says 'standards should also require traffic circulation improvements needed to support a higher intensity of development in the area," said Albert, met with applause from the audience. "The problem that we all have is in travelling Dreshertown Road, as the relic road that it is, and to some extent Limekiln, particularly in the mornings and in the evenings … it's really a mess."
However, Kaplan said that he recognized traffic was a major concern to the commission, as well as residents.
"We're totally committed to paying our fair share of building improvements—we understand there's no ticket in the door without traffic improvements," said Kaplan, adding that Brandolini would want to work with the township and others to study traffic in the Dresher circle.
Another concern raised by the Planning Commission was the effect the apartment building would have on the school district.
"We had asked for an economic review at the last planning commission meeting, to show what the benefits would be or the downsides would be," said Planning Commission member Michael Cover. "The downsides would be the effect on the schools, with 140 new residents—and what benefits would it provide for tax?"
The Brandolini representatives responded that they believed the impact on the district would be minimal.
"Montgomery County has plenty of statistics on how many school-aged children are generated from apartments, and believe me, it's not that much," Snow said.
"With this new generation of apartments, we've had some history... you have little to no children," Kaplan said before naming several similar complexes in other townships as examples. "We're not seeing children generated by this level of apartment development, where the average unit is a 700- to 800-square-foot, one bedroom loft."
Kaplan added that some of the units would be 1,200 square foot two-bedroom units, with "very little if any" three bedrooms units. He also stated the complex would expect to charge about $1.50 a foot for most units.
Besides traffic and the additional burden on schools, the Planning Commission laid out a number of concerns about the design of the complex, and how it fit into the comprehensive plan.
The design presented by Brandolini showed plans to build the complex in an empty plot immediately south of the Dreshertown Shop n' Bag. In addition, Brandolini plans to knock out the first business immediately perpendicular to the Shop n' Bag in the strip's 'L' shape, to construct a path to the apartments.
Commission members stated that they saw this as merely "plopping down" a residential complex next to a commercial area, and did little to integrate the two or provide public space.
"Is there a way of putting in a new [community space?]," Liz Rogan, township planner asked. "Can you [create] a space where somebody who lives there might actually want to take a walk and go there and hang out?"
On several occasions, Brandolini representatives stated that 140 units were the bare minimum to make the investment profitable, and that they were limited by the current development of the property.
Planning Commission chair Wes Wolf stated in an email to Patch that the commission recognizes these difficulties, but will still work to resolve them.
"Everyone recognizes the need to offset improvement costs with additional density, and that design options are somewhat limited given that this is not a vacant piece of ground," Wolf said. "We are making progress and look forward to resolving the issues this summer."
Wolf stated that the comprehensive plan's requirements for the design are to minimize traffic impacts; provide an alternative housing type for young workers, empty-nesters and senior citizens; create a more vibrant area and destination; and encourage more pedestrian activity.
The Planning Commission ultimately tabled the application until its next meeting on July 19.
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