Collegeville Revitalization Notebook, August 2019

Collegeville Revitalization Notebook

Borough Council Discusses Parking

At its July 10th meeting, Collegeville Borough Council had a discussion about parking on Main Street. Earlier in the week the Borough Manager and Chief of Police conducted a walking tour of the street reviewing where parking is currently allowed and existing signage. Parking lanes as well as individual spaces are marked in the 300 block. Parking is allowed in the 400 and 500 blocks but spaces are not marked because there are currently no businesses there that require on street parking.

Council asked the Borough Engineer David Leh to ballpark how much parking space striping would cost. Based on the Main Street striping work his firm, Gilmore & Associates, recently did for Schwenksville Borough, he suggested 10 to 20 thousand dollars, but their Main Street is much longer. Council questioned whether it would be better to wait until businesses open and there is need versus creating parking first. And they asked the Borough Manager when PennDot will repave the street. No sense in striping only to have it covered over.

Lessons from Phoenixville

Ray Ott at Collegeville Business Development CommitteePhoenixville Borough Planner Ray Ott, Jr of Ray Ott & Associates, shared information on the innovative parking solutions he developed for Phoenixville’s Main Street businesses with the Collegeville Borough Business Development Committee (BDC) at their July 22 meeting.

As noted in a previous Notebook post, Ursinus College is willing to convert five of their Victorian and classic properties on our Main Street for use by new restaurants and retail businesses, but on-site parking in that area is limited. Four of the buildings are on the block between 4th and 5th Ave., and the last building, Commonwealth Hall, is on the 500 block across 5th Ave from Marzella’s.

In order to develop the buildings, the borough parking ordinance requires on-site parking spaces based on the square footage of the public areas of the business. Ray explained to the Committee that in older towns, zoning regulations were developed in the 50s, 60s and 70s, during the “car is king” era, with very specific requirements. These requirements now place a burden on developers and discourage them from taking on projects.

Read How to Get Rid of Parking Minimums: Phoenixville, PA, the Strong Town interview with Ray on the changes he made to Phoenixville’s parking ordinance.

Although these traditional requirements ensured ample parking, they also created large expanses of impervious paved lots which are seen today as increasing flooding and heat in Main Street neighborhoods.

To create enough parking for the traditional requirements, some of the classic buildings on Phoenixville’s Main St. would have had to be torn down to create parking lots. This would have greatly impacted the charm of their business district. On Bridge Street and adjacent side streets near the downtown, Ray encouraged Phoenixville’s bold move to completely eliminate the ordinance-required parking minimums.

Removing the parking minimums didn’t mean that no parking was available. Instead, rather than individual lots for each business, developers and business owners provided parking through shared lots with other businesses and borough-owned lots based on the timing of when the lots are used. Phoenixville also allows business owners to include on-street parking as part of their parking solutions.

Other older Main Streets have also removed the traditional parking minimums; West Chester is another successful example.

Parking and Discovery

Although Collegeville’s parking ordinance allows for shared parking, it limits it to within 400 feet of the business. This is outdated; new parking solutions encourage residents to walk or bike further to their destinations, and either increases those minimums or gets rid of them altogether. Ray explained that when people are encouraged to walk a block or two in a business district, they pass by more stores along the way that they then discover and patronize.

More on Striping

Although most Collegeville residents likely are not aware, there is on-street parking allowed on Main St. between 4th and 5th Ave., with the usual restrictions for street corners, fire hydrants, and driveways. But because the parking spaces aren’t striped, it is assumed there is none.

One option to reduce the cost of striping is to make parking spaces visible through colored markings on the curb. While relatively cheap to mark, such markings are blocked by parked cars. They also do not provide the visual narrowing of the street that traditional markings provide. We’ve learned that Main Street is due to be repaved next summer, so we have a year to consider it, and no parking space striping will occur till then.

Regional Planning Hearing

BDC and CEDC members attended the House Democratic Policy Committee Hearing hosted by Rep. Joe Webster in Lower Providence. The meeting focused on regional cooperation of state, county and local governments and planning organizations to improve the Ridge Pike corridor for people, cars, and mass transit.

Read Officials excited about Ridge Pike – Main Street Revitalization in Phoenixville News.

John Cover, Assistant Director, Montgomery County Planning Commission pointed out that from West Norriton to the Limerick border, there are 5 municipalities—some on either side of the street—with no consistency or cohesion between them. Although there is an urgent need to jointly plan land use, zoning law does not allow communities to work jointly. “We need regional planning to look at it as a whole.”

Jason Bobst, Don Delamater, Chris Heleniak, Cathy KernenAt the Hearing, BDC and CEDC President Cathy Kernen served on a panel along with township managers from Lower Providence, Skippack and West Norriton. Cathy told the legislators that 20 years ago Collegeville Borough was the commercial hub of the region. But that new commercial centers near our borders took away from our town. But the demographics of the region have changed because of the influx of workers and new residents and they are interested in a new kind of business district. We hope to become that district.

And Steve Barth presented on brownfields and blight. Steve spoke of the legislative hurdles and said “The process itself is the biggest hurdle”. Steve says legislation can create opportunity zones. “By pre approving tax incentives, you pre incentivize the (development) projects.” An example of this is the clean up at the Bethlehem Steel plant.

The Future of Parking

A surprising point about the future of parking was made at the Committee Hearing: Looking to the future, we can anticipate that the role of parking lots will continue to change and shrink with the advent of the new autonomous vehicles (AV).

AVs will not need parking lots (but they will need pull-in spaces of some sort to keep passengers safe) because they can drop their passengers off at their destinations, and then move on to pick up the next passengers. Some shopping center planners are now proactively looking at the large expanse of their lots, and making plans to add additional buildings as the need for parking decreases.

Collegeville Restaurant Updates

A new Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Mai, which in addition to the popular pho soup will be serving plates of healthy grilled meats, fish and vegetables and noodles, is slated to open in late September in the Collegeville Shopping Center. Chef Mary Mai has traveled extensively throughout Asia, specializes in Asian fusion dishes, and has also studied culinary arts in Paris.

Steel City Coffeehouse is still interested in opening their second coffeehouse and brewpub in Collegeville, and their current focus is to open in the Victorian property at 424 E. Main St. next to (above) Sabre’s Jewelry.

Due to construction delays, the revised opening date for the Ursinus Commons bookstore and café on Main Street at 5th Ave. is January, 2020.

Created in January 2018, the Borough of Collegeville Business Development Committee oversees economic development and business recruitment in the borough. It is made up of volunteers from the borough and administered by a Borough Council member.

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