LOWER MAKEFIELD >> The Lower Makefield Planning Commission will reconvene its meeting on Monday night, Sept. 23 beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Pennwood Middle School on a zoning request that could ultimately open the door to a Wegmans in the township’s office-research (OR) zone.
The commission has been asked to weigh in on a joint request by DeLuca LLC and Equus Capital Group (Shady Brook Investors LP) for a proposed ordinance amendment that would add a mixed use overlay district at a 37 acre tract of land located in the OR district.
Under current zoning, the development of the 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.
If approved, the change would allow the developers to bring forward land development plans for 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.
During its last meeting on Sept. 9, hundreds of residents filled the auditorium at the Pennwood Middle School to speak out against and to voice support for the proposed zoning change, which will ultimately be decided by the board of supervisors.
For nearly three hour, residents weighed in on the proposed change during the heavily attended meeting. Just before 11 pm., the planners cut off public comment and voted to continue the meeting to Monday, Sept. 23 beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the school.
When the meeting was called due to the lateness of the hour, at least 17 residents had yet to speak. They will get their chance on Monday when the meeting reconvenes.
Many of the residents who attended the planning commission meeting were there to protest the “big box” element of the plan and the impact the project could have on traffic and the rest of the OR zone.
Resident Larry Borda, who fought the Matrix development and its plans to bring three big box stores to the township in the early 2000s, railed against the project and called on the planners to recommend rejection of the overlay request.
“This is a bad idea,” said Borda. “This project is going to generate $200,000 a year for the township. Wow! Why are we going through all this for $200,000 a year? Why are we trying to save a developer who made a bad deal and is stuck with a piece of ground that he can’t develop? I like Wegmans. It’s a pretty little store and in a vacuum I’d love to see one. I don’t need it in my neighborhood, where, in addition to minimal tax revenue and the additional expenses, you’re taking a good chance of killing the center of Lower Makefield, which is Edgewood Village. You’re going to kill Giant. You’re going to kill McCaffrey’s.
“If you’re thinking about the good of this township, at a risk of an income of $200,000 a year which is crap, it’s an illusion. You’re going to take the chance of killing Edgewood Village? That’s your recommendation to the supervisors? I don’t get it,” said Borda. “I don’t see how it benefits the township.”
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.
Marilyn Huret of Kings Road also spoke against the overlay zone. “Can we really afford this? Our emergency services are already heavily burdened. Most roads south of the area are two lanes and many are in very poor condition. Existing retail is already stressed,” she said. “Is $200,000 a year going to pay for additional fire and police, help out with the roads and everything else?” she asked about the revenue the Prickett Preserve project would generate annually for the township.
“Changing zoning,” she said, “would set a precedent for those looking to establish variances and it would be a slap in the face to residents who have had to fight long and costly procedures only to get a few more buildable feet in their yards ... Once a change is approved this opens up a landslide of similar requests from other property owners who also want to rezone their land.”
Others, however, voiced support for the idea, including a handful of long time residents and a real estate agent who described the project as just what the millennial generation is looking for.
“I’m really excited to see this,” said 40 year resident Karen Vander Laan of Chestnut Lane. “I have two daughters who are Millennials and would love to live in an environment like this where they can work, play, walk and not use their cars. Mixed use is the wave of the future and I see this as really good for Lower Makefield. For me, I’d rather see something like this than more office buildings.”
Township native Judy Gordon added that through the years Lower Makefield has changed, but it has always been able to maintain its character. “We’re a bedroom community. We have very few tax ratables. We need this,” she said. “A project like this is not going to mean a lot of children so we’re not impacting the schools. We’re also going to be increasing revenue for the township. I strongly support this project.”
At one point during the meeting, a resident asked Shady Brook Investors LP representative Bob Dwyer whether they are serious about plans for a 125,000 square foot warehouse on part of the site if the overlay doesn’t go through.
Earlier this year, Equus, which has approved plans for 185,000 square feet of office uses on the south end of the property but has been unable to market the space, began the process of seeking a special exception for a warehouse at the site. They were in the process of pursuing the warehouse option when they were approached by DeLuca Homes, the equitable owner of the neighboring Prickett property, with the idea of joining the properties and pursuing a mixed use development.
“Equus owns the southern part of the property and has been trying to attract an office user for over 10 years now. Office will not be happening here because there is no office market to speak of,” said Dwyer.
In the meantime, Dwyer said the warehouse market has surfaced. “We now have a warehouse user who wants the property,” he said. “That resulted in us submitting an application. And that will proceed if this doesn’t go through. The corner is going to be developed either way whether it’s a proposed mixed use or a warehouse.”
Dwyer said Equus tried to do what the ordinance allows for with office, which he said was the best opportunity 15 years ago. “But it is no longer an opportunity. You cannot make an office work. Warehouse works. The world of Amazon is upon us.”
When the planners reconvened on Sept. 23, they will hear additional 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.