Monday, November 24, 2014

Tomorrow's Zoning Hearing

Before I get into today's topic, a reminder that there's a Council Budget Workshop at Municipal Hall tonight at 6 pm

Tomorrow night (Tuesday), the Zoning Board will conduct its monthly hearing at Municipal Hall at 7 pm. I noticed a few interesting items on the agenda (which you can read at that everyone should know about.

I'll start with the item that concerns me the most--yet another request for a variance by Cingular Wireless regarding the Montgomery Hospital parking garage. This time they want "a permanent facility that would consist of 12 panel style antennas which would be surrounded by a screening structure that would match the existing building. The height of the proposed antennas would be 90 feet and the top height of the screening structure would be 91 feet..."

In past proposals, the language always mentioned the roof of the parking garage, height above the roof, and total height. This time the roof isn't mentioned at all, making me wonder if this would be a free-standing structure. But if you look at a map of that block, you'll see that the only free area on the property is the wide, fairly nicely landscaped sidewalk that wraps around the garage on Powell and Fornance. Cingular doesn't say exactly where this permanent facility would be or how wide it would be.

Now, I've been meeting with a committee comprised of residents of that neighborhood, and representatives from the Norristown and County Planning Departments and Elon, the developer for the hospital site. We've been working very hard to come up with new zoning and a master plan for those blocks which will make the developer happy, the neighborhood better, and Norristown proud. What we've come up with ought to help stimulate retail development in the empty stores along Powell and Fornance. I'd hate to see all that hard work ruined by a 7 or 8 story ugly tower. Even if it's on the roof of the garage, it will still increase the height at least anther 3 stories.

I've sent off questions to the committee to see if any involved knows more about Cingular's proposal. I'll let you know what I find out.

There are 2 requests on the agenda to "allow for the operation of an existing duplex" at 719 Belair Circle and 1137 Markley.  The first is located off of Selma Street between Oak and Elm, in a little isolated group of houses built around 1959, with that one thing so rare in N-town--lots of parking. The houses all have driveways, some wide enough to accommodate several cars. 719 and its twin and a few other houses in that development look as if they were probably designed to be duplexes. Given all that, I'd be fine if it stayed a duplex.

1137 Markely, however, is a twin built in 1920 for single family use. It's between James and Harding Blvd, a VERY dense block to begin with. No off-street parking and on-street parking is a nightmare only made worse by the new construction and changes to the curb line. Previous owners (the new owner just purchased the property) let the house deteriorate, which you can see in this photo showing a porch wall leaning at precarious angle and front steps that seem to have sunk down a bit on the left side. This whole block is an example of the kinds of houses and areas of town that we ought to be reclaiming as single homes instead of encouraging higher density.

The only other item on the agenda is a request "to allow for a 1500 sq. ft. addition with the height of 20’ to the existing building to be used for storage...for an eight (8) foot high decorative metal fence along Mill Street and Lafayette Street to match the proposed PennDOT fencing" at 201 East Lafayette, which is owned by Duff Plumbing and Heating Supplies. (Am I the only one who, when I see their sign, can't help thinking of The Simpsons and expects the sign to say "Duff Beer" instead?). Anyway, the architect is Douglas Seiler, who's on N-town's Historic Architecture Review Board, so I trust him not to build anything ugly and inappropriate. I think decorative fencing will dress up that corner.

So that's the rundown. I know it's a busy holiday week, but get to the meeting if you can, especially if you live in the 3rd District and will be most effected by the antenna proposal and by the bad parking situation (and potentially really bad traffic situation caused by it) at 1137 Markley.

Questions about the hearing should be directed to Jayne Musonye, Director of Planning and Municipal Development, 610-270-0451.

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