LOWER MAKEFIELD >> DeLuca Homes unveiled conceptual plans on June 20 for a mixed use development on Stony Hill Road that would be anchored by a Wegmans grocery store and cafe.
Known as Prickett Preserve at Edgewood, the development would be built on 36 acres of land, including the Prickett Farm and an adjoining piece of land across from Shady Brook Farm.
Vince DeLuca, a Principal with DeLuca Homes, said the vision is 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.
“We have a signed agreement with Wegmans. They are excited by the opportunity to be part of the Lower Makefield community,” DeLuca announced. “Hopefully the board will feel good about this vision.”
For the smaller retail spaces, DeLuca said they will be looking for higher end uses, and potentially higher end restaurant uses depending upon whether voters in the township decide in the future to allow liquor sales.
Anchoring the southern end of the site near Township Line Road would be nine high-end luxury apartment buildings containing 100 one-bedroom and 200 two-bedroom units surrounding 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 repurposed as a professional office and potentially a higher end restaurant use.
“We are 100 percent committed to preserving the house and the barn. And they will be useful, functional buildings,” said DeLuca.
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.
“What we’d like to do is work with the township in providing some historical perspective and maybe having some plaques placed on some of the buildings to catalogue the history of the site,” said DeLuca.
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 are proposing 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.
Vehicle access into the site would be by a common signalized intersection located at Shady Brook Farm. Two other entrances are also planned, including a right in/right out entrance and exit and another that can be closed off near the public gathering area.
The development would generate about $1 million net a year in real estate taxes for the Pennsbury School District.
Because the site is zoned office-research, the project would require a zoning change to allow the use to move forward, including the development of a map and a text amendment.
Once a zoning change is secured, the project would go through the land development process with preliminary and final plans going before the township’s various boards and commissions for approval.
“There’s a long way ahead, but obviously this is the first step,” said Dwyer. “We’re anxious for your feedback, your comments whether it’s tonight or in the days to come.
“But we would like to get moving,” he said. “There are a number of things that push us in that direction. If we don’t move forward, we’ll probably have to commit to other alternatives, which we’re not really in favor of,” said Dwyer.
After hearing the presentation, the supervisors peppered the developers with questions, from the timeline for the project to the uses of the preserved house and barn to traffic impacts.
On the traffic issue, Dwyer said they “understand that traffic is an issue. We have taken traffic counts. Preliminarily, the peak hour morning trips shows there’s no impact when considering that 500,000 square feet of office space is permitted on the two pieces as opposed to what we’re proposing. And there’s very little impact on the pm peak hour hour trips. There is additional traffic on a Saturday, but it’s no more than the five principal days of the week.
“We understand it’s a concern,” said Dwyer. “We understand that there might be impacts. And we understand we need to mitigate the impacts.”
Regarding the timeframe for the project, DeLuca estimated that it would take about a year to secure all the approvals needed for the project. When the final approvals are granted, groundbreaking would take place immediately.
Site work is expected to take another nine to 12 months to complete with work on the retail village and apartments taking place simultaneously. When the site work is completed, construction would start on the Wegmans.
“As we sit here today, the Wegmans would open in 2023. And we would expect to open some of the retail village components in 2022,” said DeLuca.
“This is an interesting proposal,” said Supervisor Suzanne Blundi. “We see other areas and the changing demographics of how people want to live and work in that mixed environment. Certainly we’ve heard some of the office buildings - the office parks along that strip - have had trouble maintaining occupancy and we heard stories that it’s because they believe they are being isolated. This is certainly an interesting idea that you bring to us.”
Public comment at the meeting was mixed on the project with some for and some against the concept.
Frank Falco of Shady Brook Drive in neighboring Middletown Township said he supports the concept, especially if it means a previous plan for a warehouse would be off the table. “It will add value to the area and I hope it will increase property values,” he said.
Adrian Costello thanked the developer for putting forward a creative, well thought out concept. “This is the first time I can recall that a developer came here, after being rejected several times, with something different, that’s outside the box. It’s a good idea. It’s a creative idea. This is a piece of land that is going to be developed. And all the other ideas have not been good ones.”
Another resident argued that changing the zoning would be a bad idea, setting precedence for the 40 acres across the street to potentially switch from office-research to mixed use or commercial.
Larry Borda, who fought successfully against a zoning change that would have allowed big box stores as part of the Matrix development 20 years ago, called the plan “horrendous” and warned the supervisors that if a zoning change goes through “you’re going to have a crowded room and litigation by the citizens.
“You are opening up our town to additional development. You’re going to create a massive traffic jam. We already have horrendous traffic conditions,” said Borda. “But perhaps, most importantly, this will kill McCaffrey’s. You might as well sign their death sentence if you allow Wegmans to come in because McCaffrey’s and Giant cannot compete. You are going to create empty spaces in those shopping centers. In a vacuum it sounds kind of nice to have a Wegmans, but this township doesn’t need it.”
Several other residents agreed with Borda, worried that a Wegmans would put a nearby Giant and McCaffrey’s out of business, resulting in a blighted shopping center.
Supervisor Fred Weiss said it’s not the board’s responsibility to ensure that businesses make a profit. “Our responsibility to the township is that land is developed properly and within the law. We understand the nature of competition. We understand the nature of profit and loss. But when it’s all said and done our responsibility is to ensure that everything is done within the proper ordinance.”
After hearing from the developer and from the public, the supervisors agreed to send the developers and the concept to the planning commission for review and vetting.
Supervisor Kristin Tyler also called on the community to let their voices be known. “Please send us e-mails. Whether we reply or not, we look at them and keep a tally. This is one of those issues that really what the community wants is what the community gets, not what this board wants. So please make your voices known to us and be engaged in the process.”
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 earlier this month.
The developer pretty much said at the meeting 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.