JP Morgan Chase development plans get another look in New Garden
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
To borrow a phrase from the late Yogi Berra, it was like deja vu all over again – with a few tweaks.
Before a crowded audience at the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors' Feb. 18 meeting, local land developer Bill Romanelli gave a follow-up presentation about the revised plans for a mixed-use development generally known as White Clay Point, which is owned by JP Morgan Chase.
Romanelli gave a modified version of the presentation he gave at the Township Building on Dec. 16, 2019 -- one that introduced the plans for the 200-acre development -- only this time he discussed changes that have been made to the original plan that included more open space and more emphasis on a possible trail network that could connect the development to the St. Anthony in the Hills property at its southern end.
The project – which Romanelli said may adapt a more local-friendly names like “New Garden Town Centre,” “The Reserve at New Garden” or New Garden Meadows” to name a few options – is proposed to stretch from Reynolds Road to the south, Sunny Dell Road to the west and Sharp Road to the north, that will include a total of 356 residential units – 182 single-family homes, 60 townhouses and 114 apartments.
On its southern end, the planned development will include 95 lots that will be used as town homes and single-family homes. The town center will include 222,000 square feet dedicated to commercial development and three mixed-use buildings that will be used for retail, offices and apartments. Two buildings, sized at 26,000 square feet, will include 42 apartment units each, and the third, sized at 18,000 square feet, will include 30 apartments. It will include a main entrance on Route 41 and a second entrance on Sunny Dell Road, as well as an emergency access to Reynolds Road.
In addition, JP Morgan Chase's plans include a 65,000 square-foot retail food store, a potential 55,000 square-foot indoor training facility and a possible outdoor multi-purpose athletic field.
In conjunction with the township's recent purchase of the St. Anthony's property and its commitment to providing open space and trails, the plans for White Clay Point include several patches of open space, as well as streams, ponds and trails, some of which border the northern edge of the St. Anthony property.
On the north side of Route 41, plans call for an 87-home, semi-circular active adult development, that will feature two cul-de-sacs and a club house with two entrances off of Sharp Road. Just to the south along the arterial space between Sheehan Road and Route 41, JP Morgan Chase's plans call for the construction of a 5,000-square-foot convenience store.
Joined by representatives from M Capital Partners and Chester County Engineers, Romanelli used the presentation to address some of the concerns expressed by those who attended the December meeting.
The revised plan, he said, introduces trail plans for the property that slightly vary from the trail system the township is proposing. The main difference, he said, is that the township shows trails going through “sensitive areas,” whereas the project's trail plans propose that these areas will be avoided.
A key question asked at the December meeting addressed the potential impact of the development's stormwater system on nearby Somerset Lake – a water resource that has already been affected by moderate to critical environmental problems. Romanelli referred to a 2013 study on the lake that stated that the development of this property will significantly improve the health and quality of the lake.
Asked to be more specific about how a nearby development can actually help the lake instead of continuing to damage it, Romanelli said that in his lay opinion, the stormwater that arises in the heavy concrete laden areas of the now vacant property are currently washing rapidly down to the tributaries that feed Somserset Lake. Subsequently, it requires the development's homeowners association to pay to clean the tributaries – or forebays – to keep the sediment from entering the lake.
Placing proper stormwater practices in place in the proposed development, he said, will detain the stormwater from funneling down to the lake by way of its current journey through erosive ruts, mud sediment and run-off streams.
“I firmly believe that the lake will be better suited with this property being developed,” he said.
In response to a concern expressed at the December presentation that called for the development to offer more open space, Romanelli said that the area that borders Reynolds Road will now include an additional eight acres of open space.
Romanelli said that the plans for the development also include the possibility of adding a traffic roundabout at the corner of Route 41 and Sunny Dell Road, which he said will provide an appropriate level of service per PennDOT's concerns and calculations.
However, because there are significant grade issues at the intersection, Romanelli said that the roundabout would need to be two lanes in width.
A proposed roundabout at the development's main entrance on Route 41 would not provide adequate traffic flow, he said, and will need to be built as a traditional traffic light intersection.
While the proposed development will very likely elicit continued concern about traffic, over-development and possible environmental effects – all of which are yet to be known – Romanelli praised the proposed development for having a less intrusive footprint than the PREIT plan, which was top-heavy with commercial infrastructure. In his response to concerns that the development is likely to spawn additional traffic along Route 41, he said that the preliminary information the development group has received states that this new plan will include less than half as much traffic as the previous plan that was proposed by PREIT for the same location.
“We were asked several times at the [Dec. 19] meeting, 'What are the benefits of this job?' and 'Why should the township be interested in this?'” Romanelli said. “We believe that this plan, compared to the previous plan, is a significant improvement. It is a significant reduction in commercial [development]. The commercial people we've spoken to since the last meeting have agreed that one million square feet of commercial space is not an appropriate amount for this location.”
Romanelli also pointed to the site's proposed recreational areas, its attention to the trail network and the fact that it will preserve two historic landmarks on the property as additional earmarks of improvement.
“We're going to clean up the entrance to the township,” Romanelli said, referring to the development's entrance on Route 41. “It's one of the first properties people come in contact with [in New Garden Township], and we feel it will beautify this area.”
Romanelli, who is employed by Wilkinson Homes, said that the builder has an agreement with JP Morgan Chase, and “has an interest in the property.”
Toughkenamon Streetscapes and Transportation Improvement Plan
In other township business, Jennifer Reitz of Comitta Associates and Natasha Manbeck of McMahon Associates moderated the final public presentation of the Toughkenamon Streetscapes and Transportation Improvement Plan, a broad-based blueprint for the future of the village that includes proposed ideas for smart growth in business and housing, improved transportation and aesthetic enhancements.
The presentation provided a glimpse into the concepts of the plan, and the many recommendations from Toughkenamon residents, local business leaders and elected and appointed officials – several of which came at three public meetings that were held in Toughkenamon over the past year.
Some of the key concerns expressed at these meetings included traffic congestion, mostly along the intersection of Baltimore Pike and Newark Road; insufficient parking availability and limited bicycle routes; and the need to enhance the character of the village and expand destinations and services that are currently available.
Toughkenamon was identified as a priority focus area in the township's 2018 Comprehensive Plan, as a way to infuse the village with a fresh dose of aesthetic vision and economic stimulus that could define the village as more than just a sleepy, drive-by dot on the southern Chester County map. In addition to the formation of a committee of key stakeholders that has helped to drive that vision forward, the plan has been supported by a $65,000 grant from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
During her presentation, Reitz focused on six core areas that would be impacted by the plan, if implemented: a mixed-use area; a village area; a transition area; a village residential area; a small-scale mixed-use are north of Baltimore Pike; and a Newark Road primary commercial area. She said that a key component of the development of the plan will be the need to maintain the character of Toughkenamon.
“Nobody wants to see the village overrun, or have buildings plopped down that look like they came from outer space,” said Reitz, who introduced several guidelines that are listed in the plan, including building height and articulation, roof forms, and signage and lighting – as well as the history of the village. “This is to ensure that re-development or development as it occurs blends in and enhances what is [already] in the village.”
Manbeck introduced some highlights of the transportation component of the plan, which included speed bumps, traffic-calming treatments, particularly along Main Street and Union streets, Baltimore Pike and Newark Road; sidewalk and trail connections to support safe walking and biking; potential areas for on-street parking; and new road and regional trail connections.
Manbeck referred to Chapter 5 of the plan, which spells out priority action items that will be rolled out in a phased approach, beginning with improvements at the intersection of Baltimore Pike and Newark Road; and repairing the railroad crossing on Newark Road.
“This plan will not happen overnight, and it will happen incrementally, and will depend upon funding, resources, public support and a variety of other factors,” she said. “Overall, the draft plan presents a blueprint for the township to help achieve the vision and goal of having a thriving and re-energized Toughkenamon.”
After the presentation, a few Toughkenamon residents continued to voice their displeasure with the scope of the plan, echoing the comments they shared at the board's Jan. 21 meeting. Toughkenamon resident Suzanne Snajdr – whose presentation at the January meeting scorched the plan for what she believed was stacking its attention for the benefit of developers and businesses – told the board that none of the residents she has spoken with favor the plan.
“I have not talked to one resident in Toughkenamon who wants any of this,” she said. “You talk about residents wanting this. You talk about 'This is what people want,' but who wants it? It's not the residents.”
Supervisor Steve Allaband responded to Snajdr. “When I am out and about in Toughkenamon with property owners, they tell me that they want us to put money into Toughkenamon,” he said. “If we don't put money into Toughkenamon, it is going to continue to deteriorate.”
The contingent also continued to hammer away at what they perceive as the township's lack of communication about the three public meetings, telling the board that they never received notices – despite the fact that the events were advertised on the township's website and Facebook page.
The Toughkenamon Streetscapes and Transportation Improvement Plan will accept written comments until March 10, which can be submitted to the township. The report is expected to be completed in April.
Baltimore Pike-Newark Road intersection
Steve Giampaolo, a regional service leader in design for McMahon Associates, provided the audience with an update on the work that the company has been doing on the re-design of the troublesome Newark Road-Baltimore Pike intersection.
McMahon Associates began the project in 2018, which has included a topographic and field survey and environmental assessment, and a design for the realignment of Newark Road and turn lanes at Baltimore Pike.
The preliminary cost for the project is being funded by the township, and PennDOT is funding the final design for the project and the right-away acquisition, the utility relocation, as well as the construction of the project – which Giampaolo estimated will be $6.5 million. While several investigative and geophysical projects still remain on the project's punch list before PennDOT can begin final design and appraisals, he said that the project is expected to go to bid in 2023 and construction to begin in 2024.
While four years seems like a long wait for improvements to be made at an intersection that has long been considered one of the worst in Chester County, Scheivert said that waiting on PennDOT is a far less expensive option for the township.
“If the township would have done this ourselves, we could have done it a lot faster, but we would have spent about $7 million or $8 million of township residents' funds,” he said. “Right now, with Steve's proposal, the total engineering costs that the township will be paying is $721,229.72. We received a $600,000 grant for that, so the total engineering cost for this project paid out by the township will be $121,229.72.”
The board approved an additional $89,729.72 to finalize the work that PennDOT is requiring for the township to be able to pass the preliminary engineering of the project onto PennDOT.
Recognition for Scheivert
In appreciation of his five years of dedicated service, the board gave outgoing township manager Tony Scheivert recognition at the beginning of the meeting. Beginning in March, Scheivert will become the township manager for Upper Uwchlan Township.
“Last year was a difficult year for my family,” Scheivert told the audience. “Both my mother and father died within six months of each other, and the support that I received from the staff and the board was amazing. I will never forget the kindness and compassion they showed my family.
“I have enjoyed working with everyone in New Garden Township, and I wish the board and whoever the next township is a lot of luck.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.