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Chesterbrook Redevelopment Stalled

Proposals for street parking cited as a stumbling block.

The new owner of the Chesterbrook Shopping Center wants to redevelop the site to have a mix of townhomes and retail stores. Patch file photo by Bob Byrne
The new owner of the Chesterbrook Shopping Center wants to redevelop the site to have a mix of townhomes and retail stores. Patch file photo by Bob Byrne
There is a tentative plan for the redeveloped Chesterbrook Shopping Center. Sort of. Until Monday night it was more like a working conceptual drawing that served as sort of a rough draft. 

And no, you can't see it yet.  That's because it's not a formal plan and it has not even been submitted to the township.  

Chesterbrook 300 L.P. is the new owner of the Chesterbrook Shopping Center. The owner's attorney presented a list of about eight proposed changes to the existing Tredyffrin Township zoning ordinance that were designed to make the project as tentatively envisioned a little easier for the developer to accomplish.  The proposed changes would not just ipact Chesterbrook, they would impact all of Tredyffrin Township. And that's where things got really sticky for some members of the board and the public.

The board rejected the proposals as presented and are sending the suggestions back to the Tredyffrin Planning Commission to take another look at some of the suggested changes.

Parking space allocation in new developments was the biggest concern expressed by members of the public. Lou Colagreco, the developer's attorney, proposed reducing the number of parking spaces required for each townhouse unit from 2 1/2 to 2 1/4 spaces.  Colagreco cited several national studies and research that indicates more and more people are taking public transit and biking to work and to do errands. That assertion did not play well with most of the people who packed Monday night's Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors meeting.

During the public comment portion of the meeting David Miller of Chesterbrook posed a question to the crowd. "Did anybody here walk or bike or have trouble finding parking here?" Miller asked rhetorically.  "I understand the trend but that’s not the trend here.  I’m all for this place being redeveloped but the parking,  I think I would argue we need parking."

One woman suggested that her fellow Chesterbrook residents are "spoiled" by the amount of parking that is allotted for developments like Chesterbrook within Tredyffrin Township.  

That's not how Joyce Rudzewick of Chesterbrook sees it. "Parking is a nightmare and I think the issue is not that we’re all spoiled, but when you build 3 and 4 bedroom townhouses there are children who grow up and become teens and drive and go off to college and leave their cars." She told the supervisors. "If you have a five-year-old it would (also) not be a crime to have that child play in their own driveway. (meaning parking a car on the street instead of in a driveway).  I’m very happy to have the place (Chesterbrook Shopping Center) developed.  It has looked awful for years.  To reduce parking spaces I don’t think is realistic in our area."

She, and several other residents pointed out that public transportation into Chesterbrook is limited to one SEPTA bus route and even that bus leaves many residents with a several miles long walk from the bus stop to home. 

The other issue of concern to board members was changing regulations concerning decks and impervious ground. Water runoff is always a big concern in several parts of the township. The proposal would have reduced restrictions on decks that allow water to run off between planks and down into the ground.

At the end of the nearly two hours of testimony and debate the Board of Supervisors voted to send the proposals back to the Tredyffrin Planning Commission for further review.  That will not stop the development process, but may delay it for a month or two.

Colagreco says the fluid nature of the project makes him reluctant to show the draft plan at this stage as it will change depending on the outcome of the process of changing, or not changing the township's zoning ordinance.

Several supervisors urged interested members of the public to attend the Planing Commission's January meeting when the issue will be worked on and a new proposal will be drafted for the supervisors to consider.

Bob Byrne (Editor) December 16, 2013 at 11:31 PM
The two hour public meeting, which was the first agenda item for Monday's Board of Supervisors meeting took several twists and turns. The bottom line according the developer's attorney is that the vote means plans will need to be redrawn based on whatever the final zoning ordinance looks like. It's a kind of chicken and egg situation because without a zoning ordinance its hard for the developer to know how to design the townhouse and retail complex. Several residents pointed out that without a plan it's risk to change zoning laws that affect the entire township, not just Chesterbrook. In the end the nitty gritty details for changing a zoning ordinance get worked out during the planning commission meetings. So if you have a real interest and want to be heard on the Chesterbrook Shopping Center redevelopment you should plan to attend the Planning Commission's January meeting. It will address this issue on January 16 at 7 p.m. in the Tredyffrin Township Municipal Building.
Eric Poll December 17, 2013 at 10:36 AM
Bob- Why is townhouse parking and porch runoff even part of the shopping center redevelopment plans? That has nothing to do with the shopping center. Thanks in advance for explaining more.
Bob Byrne (Editor) December 17, 2013 at 12:40 PM
Great question, Eric and I'll give it my best shot- Every building and new construction in the township is governed by a long list of zoning regulations. Among those regulations are the number of parking space a builder must provide for a commercial development like a shopping center or a townhouse community. The township currently requires that there be enough street parking for 2.5 cars for every townhouse unit. Commercial projects like a shopping center must have enough parking spaces for their customers. I forget the exact number of spaces required in Tredyffrin. In terms of impervious ground cover, like a paved parking lot, the regulations require that a certain amount of space in any new development not be impervious. In other words there has to be enough uncovered earth for water to be absorbed. Otherwise there's no place for rain water to go and areas flood. That is a HUGE issue in Tredyffrin Township where in certain low lying area water has nowhere to go when streams and creeks flood. As a result the zoning ordinance which covers the entire township has pretty specific rules about how much land can be covered with asphalt, concrete or in the case of a deck, wood. The reason this particular development is coming up against these issues (among other zoning issues) is that the developer is proposing changes to the zoning ordinance to modernize it. One of the developers proposals is to reduce parking requirements from 2.5 to 2.25 spaces per new townhouse. That may not seem like a lot but residents who opposed this reduction say parking is already pretty tight in Chesterbrook and this reduction will make it tighter. The developer argues that reducing on street parking in the new development will allow more flexibility for trails, pathways and "greener" spaces. The developer's attorney acknowledged several times that what might work in Chesterbrook would not necessarily work in say Paoli. That's where the problem lies. The ordinance the Board was considering Monday night would change the rules for the entire township. That makes this different from a developer simply applying for a variance. So why not just let developers and more importantly individual home owners who want to install a deck apply for a variance? Applying for a variance can be very expensive, driving the cost for a homeowner who just wants to put in a deck up by thousands of dollars. The thinking behind this sweeping change to the township-wide ordinance is that eliminating the need for variances in many cases will actually save homeowners money. At the end of the day (literally for last night's meeting). The supervisors wanted to send the questions about parking and impervious surfaces back to the planning commission to hash out a little more. The supervisors especially want the public to attend the January planning commission meeting when these questions can be addressed in depth. Once the planning commission decides a matte it then goes to the Board of Supervisors for an up or down vote. And THAT's why the planning commission is the place to really hash out disagreements, concerns or fresh ideas about the best approach to changing the existing ordinance. I hope that helps...If anyone from the township or BOS would like to add or correct anything in my explanation, please PLEASE chime in.
Matt Morgan December 17, 2013 at 05:37 PM
All for redeveloping the shopping center. Just make sure that Diane's Sidewalk Deli is a part of it :-). Glad to hear that the local community appear wary of this tactic of using zoning changes to put something there that they really don't want. Need look no further than the Wayne Glen development - i.e., the redevelopment of the Richter Tract. The local community in that case was clearly against the rezoning needed to make the heavy development happen in their midst. Yet, the Supervisors voted it in. So, the local community voted out of the Supervisors that voted for it. ... Still have the planned development though.
Bob Byrne (Editor) December 17, 2013 at 10:41 PM
Matt, to the best of my knowledge Diane's is staying put. (My favorite lunch place for lunch when I'm in that neck of the Patch woods!)
Bill Bellew December 18, 2013 at 04:53 PM
The Chesterbrook Shopping Center redevelopment is long needed. Once the Genardi's store left, the local residents no longer supported the shopping center. Things have gone down hill ever since. The plan on the table now came VERY quickly including getting on the Planning Commission agenda without notification to the residents. The developers did not do any geo-physical review prior to a request for review by the Commission, and the matter got to the Board of Supervisors for approval without resolving the stormwater issue ( decks as pervious surface ) or the parking space size. We have ordinances in place that have been carefully vetted by professionals, and given approval by our Board of Supervisors. The request to change our storm water ordinance to accommodate this developer application is something the Planning Commission should have handled prior to sending the development request to the BOS for approval. The request should have been DENIED !!!I might add that this would have required an ordinance change AFTER public hearings. The parking space issue is a variance request only. To fast track this case, the developer must live by the existing ordinances. I encourage anyone trying to help prevent any further increase in stormwater in our Township to attend the Planning Commission meeting on January 16th at 7pm to voice your concern. Something doesn't smell right about this entire re-development. Bill Bellew

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