Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Luxury Development in Norristown

Tonight is the monthly Planning Commission meeting at Municipal Hall at 7 pm. There's only one item on the agenda:

For Property Located at:
900 Sandy Street
Property Owner: Sandy Spring Real Estate Partners, L.P, 1300 Virginia Drive, Suite 215, Fort Washington, PA 19034

Sandy Spring Real Estate Partners L.P. is requesting subdivision and land development approval to build a 157-unit luxury apartment building with surface and subsurface parking facilities.

The word that jumps out at me is "luxury." Developers rarely use that word to describe projects in Norristown. We hear "low-income, subsidized" instead.

900 Sandy is located where the street ends in a cul de sac, right before the strip of stores where Genuardi's used to be. The lot is 3.5 acres, so that would be about 45 housing units per acre, less crowded than the planned stacked condos on Cherry Street. On Sandy Street, near the town border, there's less of an impact on infrastructure than in the heart of town where we have many more residents competing for parking spaces and water pressure. And 900 Sandy Street is already zoned for apartment buildings.

On the surface, I'd say this looks like a good development for Norristown. Hopefully, our Planning Commissioners will have caught anything below the surface that's not good, like bad design or poor storm water management, and have it corrected before the project gets final approval.

One thing I DO hope for this development--I hope 1000 Sandy Hill Associates, who owns the strip of stores adjacent to these new apartments, takes advantage of the word "luxury" and uses it as a selling point to get SOMETHING into the big anchor store. They do have some small businesses-- Sandy Hill Cleaners, a Comcast store, Family Dollar, Anytime Fitness--but with the big store still empty, it makes the whole strip look vacant (especially with the "space available" sign at the curb). If a large store or an office building aren't feasible there, maybe create an arcade for smaller stores and restaurants. I've seen this done in other cities I've been to, but in Norristown, we always seem to feel the size store must dictate the size business that goes inside. We need to start encouraging creative solutions.

The problem is, 1000 Sandy Hill Associates is based not in Norristown, but in Jenkintown, and we're probably only a dot on a map to them. They probably have no clue luxury apartments will be going up next door. They probably don't care much about what happens in our town. And that's perhaps the crux of Norristown's problem--too many out-of-town landlords with no real vested interest in our community.


  1. I would argue that Norristown attracting outside investors is a very good thing. It's possible that they can bring an element to Norristown that "locals" might not attempt, and it's also a great case study to stimulate additional outside investment. If a business sees that someone else saw potential in Norristown and decided to invest/develop, then perhaps other businesses will follow.

    Of course none of us know about this particular project to determine if it's a positive or negative, but on the surface, I see "luxury" (which Norristown doesn't really have currently), and "outside investor" and it makes me very excited.

    1. I absolutely agree. Sandy Spring Partners are the kind of outside investors we need. They're taking a risk on Norristown, building here, attracting, we hope, new taxpayers to live here. The kind of out-of-towners I mean are those who either take advantage of Norristown to make money, put a strain on our infrastructure, ask the town for funding, and they don't give many benefits back. Or those who buy up our land and don't build (the vacant lots downtown), or don't try very hard to put business tenants into the empty buildings they own (Logan Square and Sandy Hill). They aren't really investors.