Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Preview offers peek into congested future

Isn't it time to learn from our neighbor's example by hiring a consultant on this issue?

An examination of Phoenixville's future via this professional method would definitely serve Phoenixville BEFORE we charge headlong into more development in our community.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Posted on Sun, Mar 16, 2008

Preview offers peek
into congested future

By Evan Brandt, ebrandt@pottsmerc.com

LOWER POTTSGROVE — Between 70 and 80 people got a preview Wednesday night of what the area around the Route 422 Sanatoga interchange may look like in 10 or 20 years.

That sneak peek was in the form of a presentation by the consultants who are helping the township decide what the area should look like as development continues to creep westward up Route 422, lured more quickly now, presumably by the opening of the Philadelphia Premium Outlets just across the line in Limerick.

“Limerick and Lower Pottsgrove have grown tremendously over the past 10 to 15 years,” Peter Simone of the firm of Simone Collins told the audience crowding at tables of the Pottsgrove High School cafeteria.

Chris Lankenau of Urban Partners said between 1990 and 2000, Census figures show Limerick’s population grew by an astounding 102 percent and Lower Pottsgrove’s by 27 percent, as compared to the rest of the county which grew by 14.8 percent.

In the face of such rampant growth, mirrored somewhat on the commercial side of the equation, but less so in Lower Pottsgrove, Simone said the consulting team was charged by the township commissioners with fostering a vision that would “create tax ratables so local taxes can remain reasonable.”

That said, the area near a major interchange with the region’s primary highway “is the logical place to foster development in the township,” Simone said.

Assuming that commercial development will come as the economy and market get their footing again, the township wants to plan ahead and try to guide that development in a direction acceptable to the residents, he said.

Based on a market study conducted by Urban Partners and a traffic study by Traffic Planning and Design, a vision emerged of mixed use development with a movie theater, hotel, bookstore, auto parts store, small retail shops, senior housing and a road network that provides alternatives to the overcrowded intersection of Route 422, High Street and Evergreen Road.

Design standards for commercial development here should also be implemented, Simone said “so you get a higher standard than typical strip-type development,” he said.

Improvements to Evergreen Road to handle more traffic, widening of High Street to two lanes of travel in each direction, an expanded local road network and 400,000 square feet of additional retail space are all possible by 2015 on both sides of the township line, Simone said.

On the Lower Pottsgrove side, “it would be mostly smaller-type uses, as opposed to ‘big box,’ which is being talked about on the Limerick side,” Simone said.

Luring office developments or corporate headquarters to the region is considered unlikely because previous prospects brought to the area by Carmen Italia of the Montgomery County Industrial Development Corp. “took one look at the (nuclear plant) towers and said I’m not moving my headquarters here,” Simone said.

As development continues, the area of Lower Pottsgrove and Limerick around the interchange could absorb as much as one million square feet of additional commercial space, said Simone.

“It would probably be more like 15 to 20 to 25 years, it all depends on the market and what happens with the economy,” he said.

As a result the current Route 422 interchange would probably have to be completely rebuilt, said Chad Dixson, who is with Traffic Planning and Design.

For the near future, Dixson said two new Route 422 ramps, an east-bound off-ramp and a west-bound on-ramp will be needed at the intersection.

“Eventually, 10 to 15 years down the road, this interchange will need major reconstruction,” said Simone.

Dixson further noted that “about 150,00 feet of retail” can be added to the immediate region before the additional traffic capacity provided by the improvements made by the outlet developers “is eaten back up.”

To implement these broad changes, the township would need to re-zone some of the properties and take a number of other steps, said Simone.

However, a number of residents who own homes in that area -- particularly along Park Road -- expressed concerns about how such changes might affect them, the traffic around their homes, and the value of their properties.

“That’s why we’re presenting this in a very public setting,” Simone said, “so you know what we know when we know it. This plan is still fluid and we anticipate making changes to this.”

Toward that end, the draft of the plan presented Wednesday night is expected to be posted on the township Web site -- www.lowerpottsgrove.org -- within the next couple of days.

A comment period on that draft will remain open until April 19 and Simone strongly recommended written comments as the most effective way to affect the plan.

“If you don’t like what we’ve presented, let us know,” Simone said.

Suggestions, criticism or praise can all be done through the mail, attention assistant township manager Alyson Elliott at 2199 Buchert Road, Pottstown, PA 19464; by e-mail at feedback@lowerpottsgrove.org or even by fax at 610-323-3824.

The final draft of the plan is expected to be presented in May or June, Simone said.


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