The meeting started by explaining Commercial-Retail areas (dark peach color on map), that is, our shopping centers. This includes places like Logan Square/Astor Plaza, Sandy Hill, the end of West Main (U-Haul and Dr. Carp's Dental), the corner of Johnson Highway and New Hope, and the little strip on Johnson between New Hope and Arch Sts (Eve's Lunch). There's an empty lot at Fornance and Tremont, across from Curren Terrace Apts, also zoned C-R (which could provide something like a convenience store for the apartment dwellers). Basically, the new zoning proposes that new stores should be oriented to the street, with parking on the side or in back. They should be accessible by sidewalks, and present a nice facade to the street (no blank walls). Access to parking should be a drive and not a wide free-for-all zone (as at Astor Plaza, which, if it were busier, would be dangerous for both cars and pedestrians). All of these C-R zones are more or less on the fringes of town.
The Multifamily Residential (M-R) zones (brown) are basically where we already have large apartment buildings: Curren Terrace, Norris Hills, 450 Green Apts (across from Stewart M.S.), Sandy Hill Terraces, and Regatta Apts (behind Sandy Hill Shopping). These also are mostly on the fringes of town. Besides apartments, a developer could also put up duplexes, townhouses, stacked townhouses, and twins in these areas. This is where the high-density development SHOULD go (here and at the riverfront), not in the middle of established residential neighborhoods.
The block on which Montgomery Hospital stands has been zoned Office-Residential (light purple). The building could be converted to an office building, or even a college, but is probably best suited for senior housing. Small neighborhood retail or a restaurant could be permitted on the first floor. A developer could choose to knock down the building and put up houses, but the houses would have to fit into the surrounding neighborhood (almost exclusively twins). From a cost point of view, this isn't very likely.
What was the healthcare corridor on Dekalb (bordered by Green, Basin, Willow and Brown--in purple), is due to be zoned Office-Commercial-Retail. Medical offices would still be allowed, as well as other businesses run out of the existing houses. Bed and Breakfasts could be opened here, in the large houses. The only new residences allowed would be single homes on large lots. A shopping center could be allowed providing the lot was big enough, but no strips. New stores must be oriented to the street, parking behind. Facades must follow historical area restrictions where applicable. The Human Resources Center could be turned into a shopping center or office building. The planners thought Dekalb Street should be made two-way eventually, but that has to be years in the future, after the Markley and Lafayette St. projects are complete.
At the end, Jayne Musonye, our Director of Planning, explained that the proposed zoning code now goes before Norristown's Planning Commission (you know, the group that never seems to have a quorum). That meeting will be open to the public, so you still have a chance to express concerns.
As it stands, I like the new zoning proposal. I think it gives the Zoning Board, Planning Commission, and Council a better guidebook than the old code. Rules can't be fudged as easily. And if questionable development is proposed for your neighborhood, the new code give you better ammunition with which to fight it. I hope the proposal doesn't get watered down in the approval process.
So, we still must be vigilant. And we need to vote in Council representatives who'll actually listen to the residents and not be afraid to vote no, because zoning rules aren't enough. The Pennrose proposal for Airy and Dekalb, and the 1202 Dekalb development are proof of that.