New Garden officials discuss development plans for township's future
● By Richard Gaw
Surrounded by and referring to several multi-colored maps of New Garden Township, supervisors and officials turned Monday night's board of supervisors meeting into a sketch pad of conversation about several development projects that, if implemented, are certain to dramatically change the economic landscape of the township.
To begin the meeting, a planned project that has become one of the most controversial issues in recent local memory re-emerged from the shadows of dormancy: the White Clay Point Town Center, being developed by the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust [PREIT]. In addition to the construction of a 5,000 square-foot Wawa convenience store on the north side of Route 41, the 181,648 square-foot town center calls for the building of a multi-tenant retail center, and an 83-lot age-restricted residential community, which is planned for the north side of Route 41. Additionally, the project calls for road improvements to Sunny Dell Road, Sharp Road, Sheehan Road and the widening of Route 41, as well as some improvements on Route 7.
Township Manager Tony Scheivert told the supervisors that he and Spence Andress, the township's director of planning and projects, had conversations with Chris Mrozinski of PREIT in January, who expressed interested in talking with the board about PREIT's future plans for the site, as well as potentially lifting the age restriction on the planned residential component of the project.
Mrozinski also discussed the possibility of selling some of the property on the south side of Route 41 – where the planned commercial town center is located – to the township for use as open space. Once he receives formal plans or concepts from PREIT, Scheivert will introduce them to the supervisors.
Scheivert and Andress have been in discussions with a representative from Traffic, Planning and Design – on behalf of PREIT – and McMahon and Associates, about the troublesome Sharp-Sheehan Road intersection, and phasing in road improvements along Route 41, in sequence with the planned PREIT project.
Although the re-entering of PREIT into the conversation about long-term development in New Garden remains for the moment on the back burner, developing the right transportation infrastructure to support traffic flow at or near White Clay Point became front-burner discussion. In comparing PREIT's plans for the re-configuration of Route 41 from Newark Road to the Route 7 exit with PennDOT's plans to develop the Route 41 corridor, the supervisors expressed concern that the plans don't match the projected traffic increase.
"It seems to me that one of the major problems of any development, commercial or residential, is the highway system," said supervisor Pat Little, in referring to the two-lane thoroughfare of Route 41, which may not be able to withstand traffic that would be projected for PREIT's White Clay Point. "Until we can do something, we need more than a band-aid to fix this, and I consider this a band-aid to a problem. If it's still two lanes from Delaware to Route 7, that's not going to solve any problems."
Andress talked about two options for road improvements: local funding and the permitting that flows from that and the funding that comes from federal and state agencies, and the permitting that follows. It's a timing issue, he said, that differentiates the two.
"One is extremely long, and the other is rather short," Andress said. "If you involve federal or state money, the level of detail and design is significantly more than if it's done with local funding. When you're contemplating projects and priorities, keep in mind that each of those paths have different time lines associated with them. You can't just flip the switch and expect it to happen overnight."
PREIT was last heard from in the township in early 2014, when it lost its request to overturn a one-year-old order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, that ruled against PREIT's request to be allowed to convert the proposed White Clay Point to a condominium form of ownership, without going through the appropriate procedures. With the decision, the balance of scales tipped again in favor of the Friends of New Garden, a grassroots organization made up of 16 township residents.
"PREIT has kept their escrow current and they have kept all of their other approvals current," Andress said. "By having done that, they have remained in good stead, and they can start construction, essentially, at any time. The plan is not in jeopardy."
The supervisors expressed that as PREIT re-emerges into the conversation, they will encourage PREIT to attend public meetings with township residents.
"Given the controversy, the litigation and the magnitude of the property, we will have those meetings," said board chairman Steve Allaband.
The supervisors also introduced engineering drawings for a proposed business park on 44 acres of property that is owned by Modern Mushrooms, Inc. The location is planned for the east side of Newark Road, south of Baltimore Pike. The plan calls for the construction of eight separate buildings that range in size from 70,000 square feet to 172,800 square feet, for a total capacity of more than one million square feet of potential workspace.
Andress encouraged the supervisors to consider the long-term in gauging the overall impact of a project of this magnitude will have on the township. He said that the business park is projected to provide jobs for 1,938 employees, and that the projected annual net revenue to the township would be $134,000, while the annual net revenue to the local school district would be $1.45 million.
"That underscores the notion that's intuitive, and that is, commercial development doesn't put kids in school," he said. "The more money you can generate from taxes to support the school system, the better everyone in the district is going to be, because of that."
If it is ever to see the light of day and the breaking of ground, the business park project at Modern Mushrooms, Inc. will have a very close neighbor in its development plans; in fact, it would be right across the street. New Garden Flying Field Manager Jon Martin unveiled preliminary plans for the New Garden Flying Field and Technology Park, which, if implemented, would open up leasable and salable portions of the field's property -- owned by the township -- that can be used for several commercial purposes.
Martin said that an airport development committee that was formed last year made recommendations as to what they could see as options, which include residential airport communities, to be located on the southeast side of the air field; and recreational facilities, such as turf fields for soccer, an indoor target shooting range, and an ice rink.
Martin said that although there are logistical challenges in finding the right areas for such concepts to be developed, "the land there is extremely valuable. It's just a matter of the economy and finding the right fit," he said.
The potential for future development at the flying field melds perfectly with the improvements that are currently being made to its infrastructure, which include the widening of the air field's runway and the construction of new hangars, Martin said.
"I think if you rewind nine years and you look at the master plan for the airport, there were hangars scattered all over the property," Martin said. "I think at that point what we did was sit down after many discussions, and really wrap our hands around the airport in terms of determining what realistic growth [at the site] would bear for the township.
"The growth potential for New Garden Airport needs this [concept plan for growth], the way that we have it laid out today."
The board agreed to authorize Scheivert to begin acquiring cost estimates for a future site analysis to be done for the flying field.