At their June 18th meeting the Collegeville Borough Planning Commission recommended approval of the draft Main Street Commercial – Residential District (MSC-RD) zoning ordinance. The ordinance will allow townhomes on the former Rees Industrial property. The property — located one block from Main Street on W. Third Avenue (Map it) — is currently zoned Manufacturing and Industrial (M&I).
The Planning Commission’s approval is advisory only. The deciding vote will be made at the August 5, 7 pm Collegeville Borough Council meeting. Prior to that meeting, at 6 pm, Council will hold a Public Hearing on the subject. Both meetings will be on Zoom and all residents are invited to virtually attend. (See the Borough of Collegeville website for a link.)
Although he had previously presented to the Commission, on Tuesday, July 7, Chris Canavan, President of WB Homes Inc of North Wales, presented their proposed townhome plan to the public. WB Homes would like to build Hudson Square, a development of 40 townhomes on the property. Attendees included the Mayor, members of Borough Council and the Planning Commission, and residents who live nearby.
An Experienced Builder
WB Homes, Inc. is known in the Collegeville region as the developer of The Courts at Brynwood, the new townhome development at the intersection of Germantown Pike and River Road in Lower Providence Township. WB Homes also developed Cannon Square and Penn Square, side-by-side infill developments in Lansdale. The former is designed for a suburban setting and the latter two for a town setting. Like the proposed Hudson Square, Cannon Square and Penn Square are built on reclaimed manufacturing sites one block from Main Street.
Hudson Square is a 40 unit townhome development with homes built in four unit clusters, each 20 x 40 feet, with upper floors extending to 44 feet. Each unit has a two car garage, a living space on the ground floor, and two floors above with an optional loft. There will be curbing, sidewalks and landscaping on all sides. The anticipated price is $370,000 to 380,000.
Advantages to the Community vs Manufacturing
Mr. Canavan began his presentation with an overview of the property, including its current structure and condition. “The current manufacturing building does nothing for the community” he said. This M&I-zoned site is surrounded by Main Street Commercial, General Commercial and Residential districts. It’s functionality in the neighborhood is obsolete and it’s past the time when it should be used for manufacturing.
A Chestnut Street neighbor said they “have to listen to banging and cursing beginning as early as 4 am and the air fills with acrid diesel fumes.” More important, the borough is unlikely to find another manufacturing tenant.
On the other hand, “changing the property’s existing use to townhomes is an improvement. It introduces owner-occupied units with residents with incomes” Canavan said. The overall assessment of the property will increase and the new residents will pay school and local taxes: A tax benefit of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And since the borough’s Main Street and shopping center businesses are within walking distance, we can expect them to spend more of their money in the borough.
Townhome developments of this type do not attract families; statistically the owners have only one-half child per unit, which only minimally impacts local schools. When townhome owners begin families they move to a single family house.
Parking at Hudson Square
Caravan presented a map indicating overflow parking spots, and a graph showing how the proposed project exceeds the required number of parking spots. Each Hudson Square unit has two garage spaces and two driveway spaces, but allowing for garage storage, only one garage space is counted in the planning formula for parking. Thus each home is considered to have three parking spaces.
Canavan noted that a Home Owners’ Association will maintain the lawns and landscaping, so owners will not need to store mowers and yard tools in the garage. Additionally, they will create ten parking spaces on Chestnut Street and twelve on Walnut Street.
There was no stated objection to transitional housing, such as townhomes, replacing the current structure. The general consensus was that it would improve the surrounding property values, as well as be a benefit to the borough as a whole. Several residents made statements favoring the proposed project including longtime resident and Main Street business owner Tom Keenan who said he “approves of the development. A neighborhood of homeowners will have pride of ownership.”
The residents did complain that they currently can’t get through the Main Street stoplight at key times. They said that the light timing cycle is short and the intersection gets blocked by Main Street drivers. They expressed concerns that the townhouse development would add to this problem.
Canavan said that a traffic impact study indicated that the 40 townhomes would add only 20 new trips in the a.m. and 26 in the p.m. (Trips are measured by a.m. and p.m. trips.) If the development degrades the operation of an intersection, WB Homes would need to make the necessary improvements to mitigate any problems they cause to the intersection. For example, the timing of the lights might need to be changed.
When asked what the builder would do if a major problem is discovered while building, such as contaminated soil or runoff, Canavan said the builder has to fix whatever he or she finds to proceed with the development.
A resident pointed out that if a Hudson Square resident had a Super Bowl party there wouldn’t be enough parking. Canavan said there wouldn’t be enough parking under any such situation. Visitors would have to use on street parking throughout the neighborhood as they would anywhere else in the borough. He noted that Hudson Square is not a separate community but a part of the general Collegeville community.
However the borough can approach Collegeville Station and KeyBank, to ask if residents can use their lots for special parties. Residents can also have their guests park in the trailhead lot at Main Street and Third Avenue if they let the Collegeville Police Department know, since the Borough owns that.
A Main Street resident whose property backs up on Walnut Street expressed concern that he would lose parking on his side of the street. Canavan said the alley would be widened enough to accommodate parking on both sides, and that the street will remain one-way.
When Would Work the Townhouse Development Begin?
The Council’s vote on zoning will be on August 5. Over the fall and into the winter the developer will work his way through the Preliminary and Final Planning requirements. Work could then begin summer 2021.