LOWER MAKEFIELD >> The developers of Prickett Preserve at Edgewood are back before the township, this time seeking land development approval for the project.

On Nov. 9, professional hired by DeLuca Homes and Equus Capital Partners briefed township planners on preliminary land development plans for Prickett Preserve, a mixed-use development anchored by a 100,000 square foot Wegman’s grocery store, 200 luxury apartments and clubhouse and 55,000 square feet of commercial space, including restaurant and retail uses.

The project is proposed to be built on 37 acres in the township’s office research zone located on Stony Hill Road between Township Line Road and the Newtown Bypass across from Shady Brook Farm and nestled in between the north and the south campuses of the Lower Makefield Corporate Center.

In early September, the board of supervisors opened the door to the project by approving a mixed use overlay district that would allow the OR zoned land to be developed with a mix of commercial and residential uses.

On Nov. 8, Seth Shapiro, Director of Planning and Urban Designat BartonPartners, outlined a plan for the site that is almost identical to a sketch plan included in earlier discussions with the township regarding the overlay district.

Shapiro opened his remarks by focusing on the retail village portion of the project fronting on Stony Hill Road, which is proposed to include five new commercial buildings built around an open space area that could be used for township and civic affairs and small outdoor music concerts.

Anchoring the open space will be two historic buildings - the former Prickett House and Barn - both of which will be restored and adaptively reused. The Prickett family has operated an antique business at the site for years and has owned the land for close to seven decades.

“When we looked at this site we didn’t look at it as a blank site. We immediately recognized the existing barn and farmhouse were things that needed to be maintained,” said Shapiro. “Knowing the programmatic requirements that we needed to work with, that presented us with quite the challenge, but also an incredible opportunity to create a civic space.”

Shapiro said that makes this development unique and distinguishes it from a typical strip shopping center use. “Usually you would find a big anchor, a row of retail shops and a big parking lot,” he said. “That’s not what this is.

“And keep in mind this was planned and laid out in a pre-COVID world. The idea that all these retail uses will have lots of outdoor space and be focused on a centralized outdoor civic space was planned well before the unique circumstances we find ourselves in now. And we’re finding out now that the places that are succeeding have these aspects to them.”

The developer has a signed lease with Wegman’s for the site. They are also in negotiations with a pharmacy and a financial institution for space in the retail village. And they are in talks with a restaurant for the barn space.

“As for the other buildings, we have had dealt with some restaurants, some national chains, but with the current restaurant environment a lot of that is on hold,” said DeLuca. “We envision not marketing a lot of this facility until we’re about to break ground, which will hopefully be in the nine to 12 month area. That will give us an additional 12 months to lease those remaining spots. We are sitting on a letter of intent from First Watch (a Florida-based breakfast, brunch and lunch restaurant chain) that went on hold as soon as COVID hit.”

The retail village plan also includes preserving a number of old growth trees, creating public gathering spaces and building walking and bicycle trails that would interconnect the various elements of the development as well as to nearby Edgewood village via a new walking and bicycle path over the I-295 bridge.

The retail village portion of the project is located adjacent to the proposed Wegman’s, which will sit up against I-295 and face southward. It will be served by a 576 space parking lot that will be be accessible by way of a new signalized intersection at Shady Brook Farm and from the retail village.

In addition, a pedestrian connection is proposed between Prickett Preserve and the neighboring North Campus of the Lower Makefield Corporate Center.

“There’s also the desire to create more of a mixed use aspect to this site,” said Shapiro, pointing to plans to develop the southern portion of the site with 200 luxury apartment units housed in nine buildings surrounding a centralized clubhouse with indoor and outdoor amenities, including a pool.

The apartment complex will be served by 358 parking spaces and will also include other amenities including a dog park and community gardens.

“For us, the big thing is the interconnectivity,” said Shapiro. “We don’t just want to separate residential from everything else. We want everything to be connected and walkable and have copious outdoor activities and spaces not only for the people living here and shopping here, but for the township in general.

“This site is set up so that someone who is coming here parks once and goes to the various places,” he said.

“People living here who are coming home from work, maybe they are walking over to the Wegman’s. That connectivity is a key aspect of this.”

The plan also incorporates a newer element known as a woonerf, a Dutch term for shared space. This concept embraces the idea of a “living street” with room for pedestrians, cyclists and even cars.

A woonerf-designed street has no division between cars and people, forcing cars to drive at a slower pace. The street is seen as a social space rather than a space for vehicles to get from point A to point B.

“It’s not a parking lot. It’s not a street. It’s not a plaza. It’s all of those things. And it’s also an area that can be closed off,” said Shapiro. “It creates a much larger space that favors pedestrians.”

One is planned inside the retail village between the restored house and barn and adjacent to the centralized open space, the uses of which will be detailed more in future renderings of the plan.

“Right now it’s just a grassy area. We need more feedback from the township in what this space can be,” said Shapiro. “There’s a possibility of a little outdoor stage and a seating area. But here’s another idea that we think can make it even more dynamic.”

The idea, said Travis North, a landscape architect with Bohler Engineers, is to create a destination for people coming from inside and outside the development that would be useful to everybody, even beyond the retail tenants.

“I think we can all agree that the outdoor space is important to both the township and to the owners of the site,” said North. “And we envision the space being multipurpose. We are working with a concept of how the space can be used with the expanded barn, with the original house and what potential tenants could be in each of these spaces. If this center block is closed down to vehicular traffic a few times a year, this could be used as a festival space. When it’s not, we have a stage area that people could use for fitness sessions and outdoor events with live music.

“And it’s all designed in a way that could be adapted pretty easily for any sort of use,” said North. “If there’s nothing going on, this could be a space where people could hang out passively.”

Elements of the historic farmhouse and barn would be incorporated into the retail village, bringing it all together with various pavement patterns, seat walls and a shade structure over top of the outdoor open space stage area.

The buildings themselves would incorporate simple shapes with an upscale farmhouse vernacular. “We’re trying to create a village of buildings that work together to allow the house and the barn to stand out in that center green space,” said the project’s architect.

The developers are requesting a number of waivers as part of the plan, including for the height of lighting standards at Wegman’s (25 feet proposed where 20 feet is the maximum) to create a better distribution of light and to minimize the number of poles; topsoil protection (the developer said it will use as much topsoil that it can, but it will not be able to reuse all of the topsoil and it will have to be relocated); and the separation of parking from buildings in the commercial area. Some of the buildings in the commercial area are between 8 and 15 feet where 20 feet is required. The developer said it would install bollards for safety.

One waiver the planners said they would not favor is for tree replacement. The developer said there is physically not enough room on the site to replace all of the trees required under the ordinance.

The plan would require the removal of 353 trees. Under the ordinance the developer would be required to plant 1,667 trees in their place or pay the township a fee in lieu. The developer is proposing to plant 687 on site leaving a deficiency of 980 trees.

The developer said it is requesting the waiver partly because it will be outlaying millions for offsite road improvements, which is above and beyond what is required under the ordinance.

The planners, however, were not inclined to recommend the waiver noting that tree replacement is required under the ordinance and is unrelated to the road improvements.

The developers said they plan on submitting revised plans to the township so no action or vote was taken at the meeting.

As part of the project, the developer has agreed to invest $6.5 million into major road improvements, including new lanes, updated signalization and road widening, at three major intersections - Stony Hill and Route 332, the exit ramp at Route 332 from I-295 westbound and at Stony Hill and Township Line Roads.

“With the improvements,” said the developer’s traffic engineer Chris Williams from McMahan & Associates, “traffic conditions will dramatically improve and even with the added traffic from a mixed use development on this property conditions will improve and for the critical locations along the bypass traffic conditions will be better than they are today.”

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 and to historic Edgewood village.

After unsuccessfully attempting to market the site for the past decade for an approved 180,000 square foot office building and then proposing a 125,000 square foot warehouse in lieu of the office building, Equus joined forces with DeLuca Homes in unveiling the proposed mixed use development in July 2019.

The developers subsequently submitted a request to the township for a mixed use overlay district that would allow it to redevelop the office research zoned properties as a mixed use project. And for the past year the developers have been working with township planners and the supervisors in hammering out the details of the overlay zone, which was subsequently approved by the board of supervisors in late August.

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