LOWER MAKEFIELD >> A hearing on whether to approve a Mixed-Use Overlay district in part of the township’s office research zone continues via Zoom on Monday, August 31 with public comment and a possible vote by the board of supervisors.
In June, the supervisors voted 4-1 to advertise the zoning amendment, which would allow two parcels of land in the office research zone to be developed with a mix of commercial and residential uses. The 37 acres are located on Stony Hill Road between Township Line Road and the Newtown Bypass across from Shady Brook Farm.
If the overlay is ultimately approved by the supervisors, DeLuca Homes and Equus Capital Partners (Shady Brook Investors LP) are expected to submit 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.
In addition, the developers have voluntarily agreed to repurpose an historic farmhouse and barn as part of the development of the site. And it will preserve a number of old growth trees, create public gathering spaces and build walking and bicycle trails that will link the project to nearby Edgewood village.
When the hearing resumes on Monday evening at 6:30 p.m., about 37 residents who were in the cue to speak at the August 18 meeting will be given the opportunity to voice their opinion. The supervisors will also hear from anyone else joining the Zoom meeting that evening.
Information on how to join the meeting can be found on the Lower Makefield Township website and on its FaceBook page.
Supporters of the overlay district have pointed to the addition of a Wegman’s as reason to approve the overlay. Others have raised concern over traffic impacts and changes it could have on the township’s character.
During the latest hearing on the overlay district on August 18, the supervisors reviewed the proposed ordinance with the developers and took testimony from traffic and economic experts. They also heard testimony from experts retained by township residents Larry Borda and Dobby Dobson, both of whom are against the project and are publicly challenging the district.
Traffic engineer Chris Williams, of McMahon & Associates, testified extensively on a traffic study of the project commissioned by the developer.
Under a declaration of conveyance, the developer has agreed to invest around $6.5 million to improve traffic flow in and around the site, and especially at two critical intersections - the Newtown Bypass at Stony Hill Road and the I-295 west bound off ramp at the bypass.
Traditionally, Williams said the purpose of a traffic study is to determine incremental impacts from the traffic generated by the proposed development. Then, based on level of service, if there is an unacceptable worsening of conditions, improvements are identified to mitigate the impact of the development traffic.
This study, he said, goes one step further. “This study also identifies road improvements that will greatly enhance traffic conditions at the bypass intersections so they are more than just mitigated. But rather they will operate better than they do today.”
The recommended improvements include:
- Widening and improving the Route 332 and Stony Hill Road intersection to include a second westbound left turn lane for a total of two left lanes turning onto southbound Stony Hill Road.
- A third eastbound lane through the intersection along the bypass that will terminate at the I-295 ramp.
- Modify and widen the I-295 West off ramp at Route 332 to provide a separate left turn lane and two designated right turn lanes onto Route 332 westbound.
- Modifying the traffic signal operations at Stony Hill and Township Line Roads to provide a right turn signal phase to more easily accommodate the turn movement from west bound Stony Hill onto north bound Stony Hill Road.
With the planned improvements, Williams testified the roads will be able to handle traffic generated by Shady Brook Farm “much better than it can today” even though the developers had no obligation to address an existing traffic condition.
“We know traffic is an issue in the area today. We have seen first hand and we have heard from the community just how congested these roads can be,” said Williams. “Over time, whether this site is developed or not, traffic conditions will get worse.
“With the improvements,” said Williams, “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.”
The township’s independent traffic engineer, Joseph Fiocco from SAFE Highway Engineering, agreed with Williams’ assessment after reviewing the developer’s traffic study.
“Those intersections that are experiencing delays today will all be better,” he said. “There will be significant improvements if the developer makes these improvements that they have identified.”
The supervisors also heard from traffic and economic experts retained by residents Dobby Dobson and Larry Borda who are opposed to the overlay district.
Traffic engineer Gordon Meth raised several issues with the McMahon Associates study in his testimony before the supervisors.
He said the study area was “too small” given the scope of the proposed project and “failed to consider” intersections that could be significantly impacted by the overlay.
He also argued that the trip generation of the supermarket component was under-estimated and no comparison of truck traffic generation to the existing zoning is provided.
Meth testified that the proposed Mixed Use Overlay Zone would result in a “substantial increase in traffic over current zoning” and would result in “significant increases in peak hour traffic volumes for critical intersections.”
He also said the overlay woiuld generate traffic during times that conflict with seasonal events at Shady Brook Farm while the current OR zoning with special exception would not.
Economist Charles Swanson, a Temple University professor, presented the findings of his analysis of the development, testifying that the development will substantially increase traffic resulting in a lowering of property values; force Shady Brook Farm out of business from reduced revenue and competing offers for their land; result in a switch from high-end retailers to downmarket options due to an imploding retail industry; struggle to find a pool of wage earners for the $2,100 per month apartment units; and that none of the 400 jobs created by the development would provide any of the employment opportunities needed to fill the planned apartments.
Swanson also testified that the Wegman’s grocery store, if built, would likely generate approximately $350,000 in annual property tax revenue, which by itself he said is beneficial. But, he said, the net tax benefit of a Wegman’s needs to include the impact on current grocery stores in the area and the tax revenue they currently generate.
“This impact is likely to be about a reduction of $100,000 per year, leaving the net tax generated by a Wegman’s closer to $250,000 per year,” he said.
He also testified that it is quite possible that a Wawa-type service station could eventually replace Shady Brook Farm if the Prickett project is developed.
“The township should consider the possibility and desirability of a service station at the Shady Brook Farm location becoming a rest area for a highway traffic, given the new close proximity to the exit.”
In response to the testimony, Supervisor John Lewis argued that Shady Brook would probably be fine, with its diversified business model, including its deli, small ice cream shop and small bar area. Lewis, however, predicted a bigger hit on restaurants, which could lose take-out from the Wegman’s.
“I agree with you that revenue isn’t great,” said Lewis. “But I don’t know if it (the development) leads to catastrophic changes in Lower Makefield. In the long run, it does have some unintended consequences.”