LOWER MAKEFIELD >> After months of public hearings capped off by four and a half hours of public comment Monday night, the board of supervisors voted 4-1 to approve an overlay district that would allow a mixed-use development anchored by a Wegman’s Supermarket to be built in the township's office research zone.
Supervisors Fred Weiss, Dan Grenier, Suzanne Blundi and James McCartney voted in favor while Supervisor John Lewis voted against the zoning overlay that will allow two parcels of land located in the office research zone to be developed with a mix of commercial and residential uses.
The 37 acres of land are 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 south campuses of the Lower Makefield Corporate Center and along Interstate 295.
The approval of the overlay district opens the door to DeLuca Homes and Equus Capital Partners to submit land development plans to the township for Prickett Preserve at Edgewood, a mixed-use development anchored by a 100,000 square foot Wegman’s, 200 luxury apartments and clubhouse and 55,000 square feet of commercial space, including restaurant and retail uses.
The plan would also include repurposing the historic Prickett farmhouse and barn, preserving a number of old growth trees, creating public gathering spaces and installing pedestrian connections, not just internally, but also to the neighboring corporate center and to historic Edgewood village on the east side of I-295.
The developer would also sink $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.
“We appreciate the time and thorough review put forth by the Board of Supervisors to approve the mixed-use overlay ordinance for the proposed Prickett Preserve at Edgewood development," said the developers in a statement following the meeting.
"This will allow for a walkable village that promotes a healthy-living environment and reduces overall traffic by eliminating the need for residents to use vehicles to reach various destinations," the statement continues. "It will also create new opportunities for grocery, retail and public spaces, while generating more tax revenues for the Lower Makefield community and school district. The proposed plan would also make significant road improvements to alleviate current traffic in the surrounding area.
"We are encouraged by the community feedback and the hundreds of residents who voiced their support, as it will make this project something everyone can be proud of and enjoy," the statement said. "We look forwarding to working with the township and community members to continue moving the land development plan forward.”
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 for the site. 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.
“It’s been a very long, thought out process,” said Grenier. “There have been many items brought to the table by people both for and against. And like anything else, when you have thoughtful opposing views and thoughtful arguments it makes it better.
“As a board I think we worked hard to chop in some places and fine tune in others in coming up with a much better ordinance that protects the township and promotes smart sustainable development,” he said.
“This has been a very long process,” agreed Supervisor Suzanne Blundi, who thanked everyone for the time they put in.
“We had a thoughtful, deliberate process. Whatever anyone’s vote is, I think we have to be open and honest and agree the matter has been fully discussed,” she said.
“Personally I am concerned about the warehouse,” she said referring to the developer’s backup plan for the site. “I’m startled when people say that the warehouse isn’t real when it’s a use by right and it’s in the process. And I am even more startled when people think trucks going up and down our roads is a better look for the township.”
Chairman Fred Weiss said he’s looking forward to seeing the site, located between two corporate centers and along I-295, developed with mixed uses, walkways and a pedestrian link to historic Edgewood village.
“I know the infrastructure that will support this development will be sound. The DEP just chimed in with the sewers and there’s ample capacity. And the apartments will be high quality. I’ve seen what Mr. Dwyer’s group has built and I have no qualms with the zoning,” he said.
“I’ve heard those who oppose this development. They see the traffic, which has been taken care of,” continued Weiss. “I weigh my decision based on professionals, not on scare tactics, not on what one business will do over another business and definitely not over if someone will sue for acting within the law and making a proper decision.”
Lewis broke ranks with the majority, voting against the overlay fearing the potential for litigation “and some of the unintended consequences on other parcels in the area.
“It’s hard for me to offer predictions as to what’s likely to happen. I don’t know that I have a crystal ball on that,” he said. “I will say upon receiving additional insight into grocery store demand, I’m pretty comfortable in saying that one grocery store will go down, most likely Giant. I’m also concerned that a number of restaurants will get taken out.
“As far as the 55,000 square feet of retail I don’t know if that’s likely to be built for a very long time. Retail is in really dire straights,” said Lewis. “That being said the development that we’re going to get isn’t truly mixed use. It will be a grocery store and apartments.
“And that might be fine for some folks. But I’m concerned. We already have Shady Brook and Aria looking into this. And Giant and McCaffrey’s are asking for the chance to compete fairly in terms of square footage.”
The approval could face a possible legal challenge, potentially from residents Larry Borda and Dobby Dobson who hired a lawyer and commissioned traffic and economic studies challenging the overlay and the pending development.
Township lawyer Barbara Kirk told the supervisors that based on some preliminary research, “I can’t tell you how anyone could prevail. But can I give you a guarantee? No.”
During Monday evening’s hearing, the supervisors heard from more than 30 residents who called in to the Zoom meeting to voice their opinion, both for and against the overlay. In addition Parks & Recreation Director Monica Tierney read about 50 written comments into the hearing record.
The majority of comments were against approval with residents voicing concern over traffic, the impact a Wegman’s could have on existing grocery stores and how a mixed use development could dramatically change the character of the township and put Shady Brook Farm in jeopardy of being developed.
Supporters of the overlay district pointed to the positive economic impact the project would have on the township, the addition of a Wegman’s and millennial-friendly apartments as reasons to approve the overlay. They also don't like the alternative - warehouses.