Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Good Developers Do Exist

First, I'll start by reminding everyone that the last workshop on the proposed zoning rules is tomorrow, Thursday, 6 pm, at the Human Resources Building, Fornance and Dekalb (the old Sacred Heart Hospital). The first workshop went 2 hours, the 2nd, about 70 minutes (they rushed us through so they could get to the reception for the new municipal manager, which, of course, should never have been scheduled the same night). Hopefully we won't let them rush us tomorrow, and all our questions/concerns will be addressed. The workshop will cover the old hospital zoning area primarily (ie, how it's being zoned now that we no longer have hospitals there), and a few other spots in the North End, but you can bring questions about anywhere else in town. And you should. This is your last chance.

Next, I want to talk about a couple of the other projects approved by Council at last week's meeting. Here are examples of developers who are following the zoning rules, or at least, asking for reasonable waivers. From what I can tell, these projects should be good for Norristown.

The Curren Terrace apartment complex (Fornance and New Hope) wants to erect another building with 36 units, plus a clubhouse with a pool. There's a large empty lot on their property and it's already zoned for apartments. One house-owner in the area sent a letter expressing concern about street parking. The plan, however, shows that the apartment building would be between the street and the parking lot. The entrances would be on the lot side, to discourage apartment dwellers from parking on the street (they'd have to walk all the way around the building to get in). So that seemed to answer that concern. Otherwise, no one objected.

The old Kennedy-Kenrick High School and land surrounding it at Johnson Highway and Arch Street is due to become a senior housing center for residents aged 55 and older. The campus would hold 208 housing units, ranging from apartments to small cottages. A building with retail space and medical offices would also be included. The corner is zoned for apartments. While there are houses across Arch Street, there is currently no street parking there to quibble over, and that part of the development won't be dense.

The Kennedy-Kenrick developer did ask for a waiver on the number of trees required. Norristown has a zoning law requiring a certain number and circumference of trees per acre on new development, plus a requirement that any trees removed during construction will be replaced. Because of the size of this lot, the number required was about 2,000 young trees. The number removed would be 200 larger ones. The developer asked for a compromise of 700 trees, and is willing to add extra bushes instead. This was agreed upon. I thought it was sane, unlike the landscaping waivers at 1202 Dekalb, which seemed to go too far and didn't even replace the number of trees on the property.

How else does Kennedy-Kenrick differ from the much-protested development at 1202 Dekalb?  For one thing, the whole project averages only about 17 housing units per acre, about half that of the high-density developments on Dekalb. The Kennedy-Kenrick project is on the edge of town and is situated so that it shouldn't impact the neighborhood in a negative way. It puts to good use a large vacant building. It serves a need we already know exists--that is, the senior housing facilities in town all have long waiting lists. Residents shouldn't be hard to find. And since it will also house some who are pre-retirement age, they'll be paying earned income taxes at least another 10 years. The businesses on property will also pay taxes.

Sarah Peck, the developer for 1202 Dekalb, was quick to point out that her development provided .2 more parking spaces per unit than Kennedy-Kenrick (whatever that means, since you can't park 2/10ths of a car). But many of the residents at Kennedy-Kenrick won't drive because of their age. If you check out the parking lot at Rittenhouse on a weekend (when the nursing staff isn't at the rehab center), you'll find plenty of spaces. Even during the week, I've only ever had to park on Pine Street once while visiting someone. This isn't a problem since the houses across the street are large enough to have at least 3 spots each in front of them.

Only time will tell if Curren Terrace and Kennedy-Kenrick will be good, high-quality developments that enhance Norristown, but I'm more like to trust a developer who tries to work within the zoning, especially ones who understand the concerns of the neighborhood.


  1. I would like to see the senior development accept residents of 19401 first and make them a priority. Most of the residents in our existing senior developments have come from many other zip codes mainly Philly.

    1. I have 2 thoughts on this. I was a caregiver for both my parents--drove them to doctors' appts, ran errands for them, made sure they got their prescriptions, cooked for them, etc. Some Norristown residents might have elderly parents from out of town--moving them into an apartment close by would be easier for everyone involved.

      I've met some of the residents at Rittenhouse (which, I think, is our only senior apartment house in town (non-medical care)). They were all residents of Norristown. Granted, I haven't met all of them. Knowing my cousin, Frannie, who lives there, she HAS met everyone. I'll ask her how many are from out of town.

  2. Yes, good developers as opposed to those who are willing to destroy the quality of life for a entire neighborhood. And our elected officials who are allowing this are equally responsible. So, my question is , Is there an award or prestige's title for having the most highly dense plot of land in the country? Well if there is then this development would definitely be a shoe in.