LOWER MAKEFIELD >> Township planners on Monday night were forced to continue their meeting after hundreds turned out to voice their opinion on a proposed zoning change in the township’s office research zone.
Up for discussion was a request by DeLuca Homes and Shadybrook Investors to create an overlay district that would allow mixed use development of 37 acres of office-research zoned land bordered to the east by I-295, to the north and south by the Lower Makefield Corporate Center and to the west by Stony Hill Road and Shady Brook Farm.
The overlay district would allow DeLuca to submit land development plans for the Prickett Preserve at Edgewood, a village-like project that would include 200 upscale apartments, a 100,000 square foot Wegmans, 50,000 square feet of upscale restaurant and retail space, the preservation of two historic structures, an outdoor amphitheater for community gatherings and bike and walkway connections to historic Edgewood village and nearby office buildings.
The discussion began with a brief description by the developer of the overlay ordinance, but with the crowd spilling into the lobby and out the front door and people shouting that they couldn’t hear the proceedings, the planners called a brief recess to discuss the situation.
When the planners re-emerged, Chairman Chad Wallace announced that the developer had agreed to a continuance and that the meeting would be rescheduled to a later date and to a larger facility, possibly one of the Pennsbury schools, that could accommodate the crowd.
Solicitor Barbara Kirk said the date of the new meeting would be posted on the township’s website - www.lmt.org - and posted on the door of the township building as soon as it is scheduled.
The large turnout was sparked by an anonymous postcard mass mailed to every household in the township urging residents to attend the planning commission meeting and warning that “our land, our schools and the very character of our community is for sale to the highest bidder.”
On the back of the card, the anonymous mailer said the township has a decision to make “and we need to make it now. What kind of community do we want to live in? How much new development including big box, warehouse, national retail chains and apartments are we willing to live with? How much traffic is too much?”
The flyer warned that if approved, “this is the beginning of a major new commercial corridor running straight through our township. This is about much more than one new store. This is a major commercial complex and you can expect more - lots more.”
The developer pointed out that under the zoning overlay being considered, the only property in the OR district that would qualify for mixed use is the 37 acres along I-295 across from Shady Brook Farm. The rest of the OR district, extending south along Stony Hill and Township Line Road between Route 332 and Yardley-Langhorne Road, would not meet the criteria under the overlay.
But residents like former township supervisor Dobby Dobson wasn’t convinced, voicing concern that the overlay could lead to other land in the OR district also being changed in the future.
“Next thing you know we have a Costco and a Walmart and it’s going to look like Bensalem,” he said.
Dobson is forming a new citizens group - Citizens Aligned for Lower Makefield (CALM) - to fight the overlay zoning request and to keep the property zoned Office-Research.
“The OR district should remain an OR district,” said Dobson. “The citizens of Lower Makefield will ultimately not want this and I think tonight proved it. People in Lower Makefield don’t want this. It’s not for Lower Makefield.”
The meeting adjourned prior to public comment, so it was impossible to tell who was there in support of the change and who was there to speak out against the change.
When Monday nights meeting is reconvened, the planners will hear from the developer and also take public comment. The commission will then make a recommendation to the board of supervisors on whether they should approve or disapprove the change.
The overlay would then go to the elected board of supervisors, which has the final say on whether or not the overlay is approved.
Supervisor John Lewis, the board’s liaison to the planning commission, encouraged every township resident to reach out to their elected supervisors and to let them know whether they support or oppose the zoning change. The supervisors and their contact information is available at www.lmt.org.
In June, DeLuca Homes unveiled conceptual plans for Prickett Preserve at Edgewood, which would be built on the Prickett Farm and an adjoining piece of land across from Shady Brook Farm.
At that meeting, Vince DeLuca, a Principal with DeLuca Homes, said the vision of the project would be to “create a live, work and play neighborhood” by incorporating retail and residential uses and pedestrian connections to the neighboring corporate center.
The plan shows a cluster of six retail buildings totaling 55,000 square feet and a 100,000 square foot Wegmans on the northern portion of the site adjoining the north campus of the Lower Makefield Corporate Center.
Anchoring the southern end of the site near Township Line Road would be nine high-end luxury apartment buildings containing 100 one-bedroom and 100 two-bedroom units clustered around a clubhouse.
The planned residential units would be between 800 and 1300 square feet with rents in the neighborhood of $2,000 per month.
“It’s going to have a very cutting edge design that will attract both empty-nesters and young professionals who we hope to draw in here with the live, work and play environment that we propose,” said Bob Dwyer of Equus, which is working on the project with DeLuca Homes.
In addition, DeLuca said the conceptual plan includes the preservation of the historic 1700s Prickett house and a renovated barn, both of which would serve as anchors for a planned community gathering area with an outdoor stage, terraced lawn area and a splash fountain.
The community gathering area would be part of the retail village and be centered around the restored house and barn, both of which will be re-purposed as a professional office and potentially a higher end restaurant use.
Three Heritage Trees, measuring between 37 and 50 inches in caliber, including a 170 year old red maple, a 200 year old sugar maple and a l year old tulip, also would be saved and be integrated into the community gathering space, which would be open for township events and functions.
Pedestrian and bike connections are also envisioned to provide access to the retail village from the neighboring corporate centers and from nearby Edgewood village.
With historic Edgewood village within a 10 to 15 minute walk of the site, Dwyer said they would propose to improve and extend existing bikepaths and add a bike lane connection on the Stony Hill Road overpass above I-295 to link the site to Edgewood.
“Our retail-residential mixed use project is a missing link between the village and the corporate center. It’s an important hole to fill in order to create a synergy between the corporate center and the village,” explained Dwyer.
The development would generate about $1 million net a year in real estate taxes for the Pennsbury School District and $200,000 for the township.
Because the site is zoned office-research, the project would require a zoning amendment to allow the use to move forward, including the development of an overlay map and a text amendment.
If a zoning amendment is approved by the board of supervisors, the project would then go through the land development process with preliminary and final plans going before the township’s various boards and commissions for approval.
The retail village is the latest in a string of proposed developments brought forward by the developer over the past few years for the site, including an already approved 180,000 square foot multi-story office building.
In April, after struggling to find tenants for its approved office building, the developer shifted gears and appeared before the zoning board seeking a special exception to build a 125,000 square foot warehouse and distribution center at the site instead.
That proposal, which did not include the Prickett property, brought opposition from nearby residents and local commuters who said adding 18-wheelers to the traffic mix, especially at rush hour and during special events at Shady Brook, would be dangerous.
The developer’s land use attorney, Ed Murphy, argued that the use would be substantially less intense than the previously approved 180,000 square foot office building.
Plans depict a single story warehouse sited on the 14.855 acre site with 252 parking spaces and 45 bays located to the rear of the building and facing the interstate.
That project is still pending before the zoning board after the zoning board granted the developer an extension.
The developer pretty much said in June that if the mixed use development doesn’t pan out, the warehouse proposal would be back on the table as a consideration for the site.