LOWER MAKEFIELD >> A conceptual vision for a mixed use village anchored by a Wegmans Supermarket is one step closer to reality in Lower Makefield.
In a 4 to 1 vote Monday night, the Lower Makefield Planning Commission recommended approval of an overlay district that would allow mixed use development on two adjoining parcels of land in the township’s Office-Research (OR) zone.
DeLuca LLC and Equus Capital Group (Shady Brook Investors LP) petitioned the township for the proposed ordinance amendment that would add a mixed use overlay district at two parcels of land located within the OR district.
Under current zoning, the development of the 37 acres of land located on Stony Hill Road just to the south of the Lower Makefield Corporate Center, to the west of I-295 and across from Shady Brook Farm is restricted to the following uses: agriculture, cemetery, daycare, financial service, general business professional, golf course, health and fitness, nursing home and other uses by special exception.
In making its recommendation, the five member advisory board placed several conditions on its approval, including the consideration of suggestions made by the Bucks County Planning Commission and specifically the density of the residential area.
They also included a provision that the overlay not be extended to more than a quarter mile radius of Edgewood village, which would limit it to the 37 acres in the office research zone.
Chairman Chad Wallace cast the lone vote against the recommendation voicing concern with the impact it could have on the township’s other OR zoned parcels, a concern shared by several residents at the meeting.
“The sticking issue with me that is concerning is the ramifications of the surrounding other eight parcels of the OR district,” said Wallace. “I understand that is not part of this proposal, but I think it would be negligent on our part not to consider what those implications would be.”
Wallace suggested that before moving forward, the commission reach out first to other parties for input before moving forward with the overlay “because of the unintended consequences that could arise that were not taken into consideration.”
In supporting the recommendation, Vice Chairman Craig Bryson argued the mixed use, in his opinion, would generate less traffic than 360,000 square feet of office space, which could be built at the site under OR zoning.
Because relatively few people shop at a grocery store in the morning, Bryson said any AM rush hour traffic generated by OR would be taken out of the equation with mixed use except for the residential part. “But that’s minute compared to 360,000 square feet of office.
“I was always in favor of an overlay because it would benefit cutting traffic down, in my opinion, during the work week,” said Bryson.
“Now, listening to everyone’s concerns, there are things when this comes through land development that I didn’t consider that I will consider to make sure that whatever comes through in an overlay, if it should happen, be suggested during the land development process.”
Planner Tony Bush, who fought against big box stores at the Matrix site in the early 2000s, noted that in this case the proposed overlay is consistent with the township’s master plan, which suggests consideration of mixed use in the OR district. It’s also consistent with an overlay district in adjoining Edgewood village, he said.
The site also sits next to a highway “which is ideally where you want to put development,” said Bush.
“Obviously everyone is concerned with traffic and that’s the overriding concern we all have. Some of us are stuck on that,” he said. “At the same time there’s a desperate and ongoing need for mixed use housing here. We don’t have enough of it.
“And finally, there’s the big concern” regarding similar requests coming from other OR zoned parcels and the impact that might have.
“Although we’re being asked to look at a very technical issue, there are big pictures issues here. But I also believe that at the same time we have to trust the process so we can move forward,” said Bush. “We’re not in a position tonight to make decisions on environmental impacts or traffic. Those are questions for another day.”
The planners weighed in and voted after hearing from about 30 additional residents who spoke for and against the overlay district during the meeting, which was continued from Sept. 9.
Proponents argued that the project would attract young millennials to the township, fill up the office parks with workers while enhancing the township’s tax base.
Charles Paraboschi, a millennial who lives in the township and works in the OR district, said right now the office buildings on Township Line Road are underutilized. “If we put a warehouse in there those offices will never get filled,” he said.
“I’d love for it to be green space or a park, but that’s not reality,” he added. “It’s private property and it’s way more likely it turns into a warehouse if we say no to this.”
Paraboschi, who works in an office where most of his coworkers are in their 20s, added that mixed use developments like Prickett Preserve are “absolutely what we need” to attract young professionals to the township.
“Increasing the availability of housing in a mixed use retail environment will attract way more people like me and the people I work with,” said Paraboschi, adding it’s difficult for millennials to afford housing in the township.
Michelle Anthony, who lives in Flowers Field just across the bridge from the OR zone, said she’s “looking forward to walking over to Prickett Preserve to enjoy the space and enjoy whatever ends up being there. I don’t want to walk over to a warehouse or a storage facility,” she said. “Developers are going to develop this land so it might as well be something that is beneficial to the residents and is going to keep our taxes more in check.”
Resident Christine Toy-Dragoni took issue with a mailer that was sent out by opponents of the overlay, which she called misleading.
“It’s pitting it like we either have Wegmans or have this beautiful Yardley green space. That’s not what I’m hearing here,” she said. “The way it is zoned they have every right to put offices on there now or warehouse with a special exception. This is not the township’s property. It belongs to someone else so they have rights to it that we do not. This is just making us part of the process.”
Opponents voiced concern about how the overlay would change the character of the township, plans for a big box store, traffic impact and the overlay's affect on the other open parcels in the OR district.
One resident, who used to play at the Will ‘O Wisp Farm on Mirror Lake Road and has spent his life in the township, said he's concerned the chanes will turn that section of Stony Hill Road into another Route One and Oxford Valley.
He cautioned the board that by approving the overlay “it will establish ... legal precedent for Dave Fleming (Shady Brook Farm) ... to develop his property the same way and you will forever change the nature of the township. It will never be the same,” he said.
Lisa Tenney, who moved to the township from Connecticut three years ago with her husband, said they were attracted by the “family-oriented, quaint town of Yardley and the beautiful neighborhoods lined with trees and sidewalks.
“If this pathway to mixed use continues, the character of the town will change and that’s going to make it Anytown, U.S.A.,” she said. “Lower Makefield will lose its edge because it will look like an extension of Langhorne (Middletown Township). This decision is going to change the fabric of Lower. Makefield.”
Resident Christina Martin said there is no guarantee that traffic will be mitigated, reminding everyone that many in the community use Stony Hill and Township Line roads to go to work, school and play. "It will greatly affect us and it will greatly affect the infrastructure of our community,” she said.
Martin also "vehemently" disagreed with a previous speaker who said the development would attract young professionals, saying she doubts that the planned apartments would be affordable to young people.
Following the meeting, developer Vince DeLuca expressed thanks to the planning commission for its review and time and to the residents who came out in support of the application.
“We’re happy with the decision and we look forward to meeting with the board of supervisors to discuss it,” he said.
Former township supervisor Dobby Dobson, a member of Citizens Aligned for Lower Makefield, raised issues after the meeting with the politics involved in the overlay change.
“What really bothers me is that the Democrats were so against big box at the Matrix site on Big Oak Road and the supervisors changed that and it was okay. Now it seems like the shoe is on the other foot. We’ve been consistent against it there and against it here. It’s mind boggling to me. But I tell you, the traffic impact study, the economic impact study will be in our favor.”
He also disputed the vice chairman’s claim that a Wegmans would have less of a traffic impact than offices. “Wegmans expects to bring in $1.5 million a week. At $30 a spend, you do the math. That’s a 1,000 cars a week and that’s just not on Saturday and Sunday.
“We’re going to keep fighting this. We’re going to the board of supervisors and if we have to and they give us a reason for an appeal, we’ll take it to the courts. That’s how much we want this community to stay the way it is.”
The recommendation from the planning commission now goes to the board of supervisors for review and a final vote.
If approved by the supervisors, the developers plan to move forward with Prickett Preserve at Edgewood, a mixed use development that envisions a 100,000 square foot Wegmans grocery store and a 55,000 square foot retail village with office, restaurant and retail uses developed by DeLuca and 200 high-end apartments (100 one bedroom and 100 two bedroom units) and a state-of-the-art clubhouse proposed by Equus.
The plan would also preserve and integrate two historic structures (a barn and a farmhouse on the Prickett property) into the project, save several Heritage trees ranging from 36 to 40 inches in caliber, create an outdoor gathering area for public events and add pedestrian connections to the adjacent corporate center and to nearby historic Edgewood village.