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Chester County Press

Supervisors Give Final Approval to Kennett Gateway Plan

08/25/2020 04:14PM ● By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
The dream of Kennett Square Borough becoming a truly walkable community just took another bold step forward to becoming an even larger reality.

During their Aug. 19 online meeting, the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors gave a 3-0 final approval to the proposed development of the Kennett Gateway, a 13.15-acre planned development along Ways Lane and East Cypress Street that will be the future home of 53 townhouse units, 24 apartments and 14,000 square feet of commercial space.

The planned village will be developed by the CommonwealthGroup, LLC, 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 decision was reached after the Chester County Commission recommended final approval to the board at their Aug. 12 meeting, following the board’s July 15 and July 1 online meetings, when board chairman Dr. Richard Leff and supervisors Whitney Hoffman and Scudder Stevens gave preliminary approval to the development’s plans, based on the recommendations of a subcommittee of the township’s Planning Commission.

In its recommendation, the subcommittee stipulated that final approval would be subject to several conditions in the proposal that needed to be addressed in the form of 19 waivers including road maintenance, lighting, sidewalks, access easements, parking, stormwater concerns and alternate vegetation replacement.

“I think that we brought a compelling development that required a lot of understanding and a lot of legwork to try and come to some sort of a solution,” said Donald S. Robitzer, Jr., the vice president and the chief operating officer for The Commonwelath Group LLC. “The hard ones always take that sort of collaboration. There is a reason that the township’s wishes are the wishes of the people. We’re very proud to be a part of that. As local developers, we look forward to enhancing the opportunities within the township, and working alongside you to come up with a creative solution to what has otherwise been a burden that nobody has been willing to tackle.

“Hopefully, we can get it done together in an affordable way that creates a lot more safety and experiences for our renters, or homebuyers and our businesses.”

Kennett Gateway is the first mixed-use commercial/residential development to be proposed and approved within the Way’s Lane vicinity, and what Leff called “the anchor” in what may lead to future commercial and residential growth there.

Despite its ruddy aesthetics, the Ways Lane area has long been considered a diamond in the rough for potential development, and has been praised as a strong candidate for residential growth due to its being a short walk to the Kennett Library, schools, restaurants, businesses and activities in the borough.

In her Aug. 19 policy briefing summary for the project, township director of planning and zoning Diane Hicks said that the area enable the township to break ground in an underutilized section.

“In summary, Kennett Township recognizes that the Kennett Gateway application is the first mixed use commercial/residential development to be proposed within the Way’s Lane area,” she wrote. “Way’s Lane has the potential for commercial and /or higher density residential development and thus a boost to Kennett in the area of economic development.”

In her summary brief, Hicks focused on what have been the largest stumbling blocks standing in the way of this area reaching its potential: Ways Lane is a private road that is owned by 19 or so property owners, and has become a roadway beset with poor infrastructure.

Hicks wrote that after meetings with the township’s Planning Commission and various consultants and the project’s developer about how to properly maintain the road, she recommended that the township cannot require the developer to maintain “a portion of the roadway he does not own.

“That being said, I feel the township should require some type of agreement on how the roadway will be maintained with the expectation that communication on this issue will continue in a positive direction,” she wrote.

Township Manager Eden Ratliff said that the township will take ownership of Ways Lane near the Kennett Gateway property and will be responsible for maintenance of the road near the project, while at the same time pursuing better solutions for the road.

“This proposal puts the township in a position to own the challenges of Ways Lane and really drive – with public and private partnerships – toward solutions in that area,” Ratliff said. “A lot of that is predicated on the desire for economic redevelopment as reflected in the 2016 Kennett-Area Economic Development Study.”

John Jaros, land use counsel for the Commonwealth Group, LLC, thanked the township officials for their cooperative effort in working with the applicant through the many phases of development approval for the Kennett Gateway.

“This is the kind of cooperative effort that over my 30 years of experience should happen between a township and a developer,” he said. “We feel that we have rolled up our sleeves and worked very long and hard on this, and this cooperative effort has resulted in where we are this evening.”

Hoffman expressed her enthusiasm for the development, specifically because it will break ground as the first development of its kind in the township that adopts the Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND) concept, whose design incorporates a range of housing types fitted within a network of well-connected streets and blocks, humane public spaces, and includes amenities such as stores, schools and places of worship – all within walking distance of residences.

As he had in recent discussions about the proposed development, Stevens continued to express his concerns for the great number of contingencies that still need to be resolved in the development. He was later assured by Ratliff, Jaros and township solicitor David Sander that these contingencies will be the responsibility of the township to execute, enforce and ensure that they are met.

“We’re just looking for a creative solution,” Ratliff told Stevens. “We all want the same thing. Let’s figure out how to get there, and this was the end product, and it’s something that we can all have confidence in.”

Despite his reservations, Stevens assured those in attendance at the meeting that he is not “an obstructionist” to the planned development, and in fact sees Kennett Gateway as a “lynchpin” effort to stimulate residential and economic growth in the township.

“Ways Lane is the continuing elephant in the room for the township,” said Stevens, who first began discussing development in Ways Lane in 2012 when he first joined the township board, in an effort to “do something more creative and more meaningful for the long-term well-being of the township.”

Robitzer estimated that the starting cost of townhomes in Kennett Gateway will begin in the $300,000 range, and said that there is scheduled to be units in the townhome complex that will be affordable to at least 80 percent of those who earn the average annual median income. He also estimated that the monthly rental fee for apartments will fall between $1,100 and $1,700 per month, depending on the apartment size.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].