Monday, July 21, 2014

Stacked Townhomes AGAIN

The Zoning Board will meet at 7 tomorrow night at Municipal Hall, and 522 Cherry is on the agenda. The wording is "Swede Street Associates is seeking... a Special Exception to allow for sixteen (16) multi-family units, with a mix of handicapped-accessible flats and 2-story stacked town home units in the Town Residential District."

522 Cherry Street is actually 6 addresses, from 512 through 522. There's a parking lot on the site right now, accessible from Maple Alley. From Cherry Street, all you see is a white wall. The front of the property is so much lower than the back, the retaining wall had to be built to level the lot. The description says the property is 20,000 square feet, but under lot size, it says 11,396. For comparison sake, a half acre equals 21,780 square feet.

Aerial view of the lot
There used to be houses on the spot. In the early 1900s, a veterinarian named Bornemann lived at 522. His widow lived there until 1934. I'm not sure if there was ever a house for each address. 6 row houses could have fit the space, though really tightly, since the frontage on both the alley and street is only 98 feet.

The address is within the Central Norristown Historical Area, in a HARB-A district, meaning the HARB review board is supposed to look at anything being remodeled or built there to make sure it falls into the guidelines of the historic district.

The current zoning for Residential Districts in Norristown says that you can't build anything denser than what's already there. If the block has single homes, you can only build single homes; if twins, only singles and twins; if rowhomes, only singles, twins and rowhomes. Nothing denser. No apartment buildings, no commercial buildings, certainly no "stacked townhomes" which are simply condos with a fancy name.

And yet Swede St. Associates is asking to put 16 condos on less than a half acre, with only a 98 foot width.

The law says you have to provide a minimum of 2 parking spaces per unit in new construction. That would be 32 spaces. The standard space size in the US is about 19 x 8.5 feet. Parallel parking spaces are usually 20 feet to allow for maneuvering space. So figure 5 cars in front of 522 Cherry. If there were perpendicular spaces off the alley, you might fit another 11 cars. That's 16 cars total, which means the lot shouldn't hold more than 8 units, tops. But, if you're filling up the lot with 16 units, how much footage will be left over for parking spaces at all?

What about trash? With 98 feet on the alley, each condo owner would have about 6 feet of space for their trash, or less, if cars are parked on the alley side. Unless you're going to have some rule that says only 1 occupant per condo, whole families, generating several bags each might live there. In my neighborhood we have a lot of single homeowners. Many put out more than one trash can, including myself on occasion. Trash, in that dense a development, would be a nightmare.

Those are just a few reasons I intend to go to Zoning Board Hearing tomorrow and protest this proposal. I said last year that the ridiculously dense development at 1202 Dekalb would open the flood gates for this kind of thing all over Norristown, and here we are with another one. We need to say "no more" NOW.  I hope you'll join me.

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