Supervisors’ ‘OK’ moves Ways Lane development plan to final approval stage
By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
The Kennett Gateway, a planned development that if completed will transform a long forlorn section of Kennett Square, moved one step closer to becoming a reality last week after the Kennett Board of Supervisors gave preliminary approval to the development’s plans at their July 1 online meeting, contingent upon the recommendations of the township’s Planning Commission.
Located near the confluence of East Cypress Street and Ways Lane, The Kennett Gateway is a 13-acre planned village concept that proposes the construction of 53 townhouse units; a 49,000 square-foot, three-story mixed-use building that will contain 24 apartment units on the second and third floors and 14,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor.
The planned village is being developed by the Commonwealth Group, a Wilmington-based development, leasing and management company that has been involved in office, residential and industrial building throughout the Mid-Atlantic region since 1973.
The Kennett Gateway application is the first mixed use commercial/residential development application to be proposed within the Way’s Lane area.
The July 1 meeting was not the first time the Kennett Gateway proposal has been discussed and reviewed by township officials. Previously, it received relief from the township’s Zoning Hearing Board in 2019.
The planned project received a huge boost on June 30, when a subcommittee of the township’s Planning Commission recommended a preliminary plan approval to the project, in connection with reports and additional recommendations they reviewed from the township’s solicitor, engineer, landscape consultant, fire chief, police chief and the Chester County Planning Commission.
They stipulated in their recommendation that the approval is subject to several conditions in the proposal that need to be addressed in the form of 19 waivers, which include road maintenance, lighting, sidewalks, access easements, parking, stormwater concerns and alternate vegetation replacement.
In addition, the subcommittee recommended final plan approval be granted as long as the Commonwealth Group provides “private street maintenance agreement(s) for the full width of Ways Lane fronting the Kennett Gateway land development.” The wording was later changed by the township solicitor to read: “The applicant will use its best efforts to entertain the private street maintenance agreements for Ways Lane. If Ways Lane is relocated, the extent of the private street maintenance shall run to the end of the southernmost access driveway for the applicant’s proposed development. If Ways Lane is not relocated, the extent of the private street maintenance shall run to the southernmost end of the applicant’s property.”
While the location where Kennett Gateway is proposed to be built is the one remaining area in the township that has potential for commercial and/or higher density residential development, it is perceived as a diamond in the rough. To some, Ways Lane – a private road -- is a long-perceived eyesore of poor roadway infrastructure, but to others, it owns great potential, given its close proximity to the bustling walking community of the Kennett Borough and the Route 1 corridor.
Despite his objection to the wording and details of the provision that calls for the Commonwealth Group to provide street improvements to and abide by a maintenance agreement with Ways Lane, Supervisor Scudder Stevens recognized the need to properly develop the area.
“This project is an important project for the township, and that location is an important location that needs to be addressed,” he said. ‘The addressing of Ways Lane, not just at that point, but for the length and totality of Ways Lane, is crucially important, and it has to begin somewhere.”
John Jaros of Riley Riper Hollin & Colagreco, the attorney representing the Commonwealth Group, also sees the ‘big picture’ potential for the planned development.
“The only way Ways Lane is going to start to get improved for its entirety is that is if this project gets started, and acts as an impetus for future development along Ways Lane, which I think it will, that will ultimately lead to the improvement of Ways Lane for its entirety,” he said.
The planned project now moves to the final land plan approval stage, which is scheduled to occur later this summer.
Township to refinance its commitment to open space
In other township business, the board voted 3-0 to enter the township into a $6 million loan agreement with Malvern-based Public Financial Management (PFM) to help refinance its commitment to future open space acquisitions.
About two months ago, the board authorized the staff to pursue options related to the township’s existing open space loan – the depth of which was used to purchase the Spar Hill Farm property – in an effort to refinance the current open space loan and allow for additional options to pay for open space purchases in the future.
Chris Bamber, a senior management consultant with PFM, discussed several financing options with the supervisors.
After being presented with several refinancing options, the board agreed to the particulars of the loan, which will be to enter the township into a $6 million loan for a 15-year maturity period at a fixed rate of 3.5 percent interest. The loan period will begin this August, and will give the township the freedom to draw from it for a period of up to 24 months.
Currently, the township is carrying an existing open space loan that includes $2,829,309 in existing debt, from a $5 million loan that was issued on July 24, 2018. The loan fulfills the Township’s four-point “wish list” of potential financial packages: It creates a $5 million to $6 million total issuance, inclusive of $2.9 million refunding; it creates a draw period for up to 24 months; it is a fixed rate; and its maturity length is between 15 to 20 years.
Bamber said that PFM will charge the township $17,500 to broker the loan and provide financial advisement over the course of the loan. Stevens asked Bamber what advantage the township will have by hiring an independent financial advisor.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen that when folks try to do this themselves, the banks kind of recognize that, and that’s when you start to see some murky terms and revisions included in the loan,” Bamber replied. “[By doing] this two or three times a week across the Commonwealth, [it allows us] to go to the bank and say, ‘That is not the standard, and that is not part of the process.’ It’s the expertise in trying to help you figure it out, and taking the burden off of your financial team.”
Bamber said that hiring PFM will provide the township with a “peace of mind.”
“You [the township] effectively have an independent third set of eyes representing your interests,” he said.
Bamber comes to the township at the recommendations of Township Finance Manager Amy Heinrich and Township Manager Eden Ratliff, who had worked with PFM for debt issuance at their previous positions – Heinrich when she was the chief financial officer and finance director for West Whiteland Township and Ratliff when he was borough manager and chief administrative official of the Borough of Greencastle in Franklin County.
Currently, PFM is the largest public financial advisor in Pennsylvania and in the country, and is the financial advisor for nine municipalities in Chester County and nine county school districts.
Stevens said that it makes good financial sense for the township to refinance its open space loan structure now.
“We are not spending [township residents’ money],” he said. “We are spending open space tax money, which was a result of a referendum that was overwhelmingly adopted, and has continued to be supported by the residents of this township ever since. Open space is in great demand in the view of this township, so we are spending the money that they have given us to do that, and we’re trying to do it at the most efficient and economical level.”
Stevens said that by securing the loan now, it will allow for the township to take immediate action on potential land acquisitions that may become available soon. As an example, after years of what he called “coffee cup” about the possible acquisition of the Spar Hill property, the township had to act very quickly in order to acquire the property. He said that there are currently a handful of potential acquisitions the township is considering.
“The land availability controls, and in this case, if one of these [potential] transactions became available next week, and the owner of the land said, ‘We’re retiring and moving to Florida, and if you want to do this deal, you have to do it now or it will become a housing development,’ what do we do? Do we wait and talk to them next year?
“That land is here now, and we have to be ready for it.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.