chester county and development…not so perfect together?

Today when the news came that Brian O’Neill was continuing with Uptown Worthington’s next phase, I was not one of the ones cheering.  First I thought of my former township (Lower Merion) and the O’Neill projects in moth balls and sites looking shabby. Then I started to think about the development I have seen since I moved to Chester County, and I am concerned.

No one wants to turn their back on progress, but at what price comes progress?  For example, let us not forget Malvern Borough’s $60,000 mistake on East King Street. You know? Eli Kahn’s New Urbanism Fairy Tale?  In July, Kahn and his partners David Della Porta and Gary Toll did the old soft shoe and a rah-rah ground breaking.

With regard to Malvern, I will say again, You know what I think Eli Kahn and Jack Loew’s project is going to be like when it is done?  A super-sized Charleston Greene.  And over the years, how has Toll’s Charleston Greene worked for you ,Malvern?

A friend said to me a little while ago “You can’t spend other people’s money and
generate prosperity. ” 

There is food for thought.  Also to think about quite seriously is what Tredyffrin did last night other than not apologize for cyber-bullying the delightful and devoted and hard working community champion Pattye Benson.   They approved the C-1 Zoning Change. Now, basically, a LARGE death farm, excuse me, senior assisted living facility will grow on a rather SMALL site on Lancaster Avenue.  You know, where Jimmy Duffy’s Catering Company used to reside?

Interestingly enough, this new development is from a Tredyffrin resident who put the residents of Bala Cynwyd through the ringer for another awkward site senior assisted living facility around 2009. Main Line Media News said at the time:

Further township discussion of a controversial Bala Cynwyd development plan has been postponed until next month.

Developer Ed Morris of Traditional Properties LP had hoped to take his new plan for an assisted-living facility at 27-33 Old Lancaster Road to Lower Merion commissioners this week….Morris got zoning-hearing board approval in late July of a special exception to build a “home for the aged” on the parcels, which today are occupied by two single-family homes. The stone colonial houses would be demolished.

The plan was a switch from development plans approved by the township in 2006 for a four-story, 21-unit condominium building. Morris has said that marketing efforts to sell units in the proposed building were not successful as the housing market stalled….A number of residents in surrounding neighborhoods in Bala Cynwyd and Merion objected to the change in direction, saying that the assisted-living facility is a more commercial use, out of character with the area.

Oh my goodness!  Is this not an eerie sense of déjà vu?  Don’t I remember original plans for the Jimmy Duffy site being different, albeit equally unwelcome to neighboring Daylesford residents? (And Ed Morris like Brian O’Neill was featured in an article a few years ago in Main Line Today called Condo Mania)

How many developments do we need?  Does Chester County want to end up a congested mess with limited open space like much of the Main Line?

I noticed on Malvern Patch that a lot of people are excited by the idea of MORE mall at Uptown Worthington based upon the comments.  I, on the other hand, am concerned.

It wasn’t too long ago that this developer was embroiled in nasty, nasty litigation over this site.  And how will this phase of construction affect people? Remember the first phase? And look at the 100 year PennDOT 202 project right there right now. It really isn’t a 100 year project, but given how PennDOT does business it might as well be.

Then there is the thought of how many malls and mall like places do we need?   Exton is but minutes away with the Exton Square Mall, Main Street at Exton and the countless other smaller strip malls in and around it.  King of Prussia is also fairly close with the giant King of Prussia Mall and all the other various and assorted strip malls and sub-developments in the vicinity. (And don’t forget that charming casino because you know nothing says U.S. history like a slots parlor next to where George Washington literally slept.)

In addition to these larger malls and newer strip malls are all the other strip malls and often funky shopping centers on Route 30, Paoli Pike, Route 3, pick a road.

Really Chester County, how much development do you want? How much development do we need as residents?  Are we actually getting new stores or are businesses just hop-scotching between retail developments, moving every few years to whatever the next sweetest deal is? And do you want a steady stream of fill-in-the-name-big-box-retailers and chains?  What of the independent local business where they know their customer base and might be your neighbors?

I saw the development of Chester County in a most unusual way on my 9/11 hot-air balloon ride.  I saw the development from the air.  From high up in the sky it looked like miles and miles of Legos – developments all cookie cutter.

Chester County on a county level needs to get a real grip on the future.  The economy is not recovering, and still these developments proceed.  Developers will say they bring jobs, but once you get beyond retail shift work and minimum wage, what is there?  And you need more than that to fill up the condos, town homes perched on formerly rural highways, and the communities of McMansions. (Don’t forget about the fact they are trying to supersize Birchrunville in West Vincent. And then there is other potential residential development in the future, right?)

Once the open space is gone, it is not coming back. Once the charming cross-roads towns are gone and the farms are gone, they are also not coming back.  That’s all. Just think about it.

My wish for Chester County is a revolution of common sense.

malvern’s mistake

I have written before how I feel that Malvern’s super-sizing via the Eli Kahn development on King Street is a huge mistake.

In March, the Daily Local had one of its nameless editorial columns on it.  As was the case with a couple nameless, faceless editorials on West Vincent, they were off the mark on Malvern too.  And honestly, part of my problem with these editorial is that if you want to go incognito on a blog, that is one thing, but if you are writing for a large local and regional paper, sign your name.

So the Daily Local said at the time:

At a recent meeting of the Malvern Business and Professional Association, developer Eli Kahn told the group about his plans to transform East King Street in the borough, now home to small industrial complexes, into a vibrant residential and retail swath that he calls “a walkable environment … a better environment to work in.”

Kahn is the man who with his partner Jack Loew purchased two large buildings from Chester County in West Chester’s so-called “first block,” ….In Malvern, Kahn said he had gotten the idea 12 years ago to begin work on a new mixed-use environment there. He said the five-year venture in 18 months will produce 25,000 square feet of retail space with “quality residential” space above it and expanded parking below and outside…“Success is a mix of business, shopping and quality residential,” he said. “West Chester has been very successful over the past five years,” and a like result can occur here. “The charm of Malvern is what’s making this project successful.”

 

We hope that Kahn will continue his efforts to be forthcoming about plans for the West Chester property. It sounds as though he is on the right track in Malvern.

Ok, did the nameless, faceless anonymous editorial column writers walk the site?  Or did they merely expound upon a developer feel-good press release?

I went to the site today while running errands.  I was profoundly disturbed by what I saw, and can easily envision for the future.  Yes, it is a site that should be redeveloped. But why not a park and a couple of stores?  Or something Malvern lacks? Sufficient parking?

Malvern Patch also has covered this development.   Much like The Daily Local has. The Daily Local has also covered the Kahn-ism of West Chester too.  In both cases, I feel in my heart of hearts, this will when all said and done, like letting the proverbial fox in the hen-house.

West Chester has a good formula in their downtown now, which I saw more of this morning when I went to the West Chester Grower’s Market.   Carolyn Comitta and Holly Brown better keep their heads on right, lest they  ruin a good thing.

Developers always say the right thing when they come a courting, but what happens when they leave?

Which brings me back to Malvern.  You know what I think Eli Kahn and Jack Loew’s project is going to be like when it is done?  A super-sized Charleston Greene.  And over the years, how has Toll’s Charleston Greene worked for you ,Malvern?

As I went back and forth through Malvern today, checking the streetscape, I had to wonder if they needed super-sized development anymore than Ardmore, PA does? In Ardmore, the residents wanted a new train station which may never appear in anyone’s lifetimes now, but on Monday apparently there is a press conference about the work beginning on the Paoli Transportation Center.

As I said before, as long as I can remember has had an unfortunate identity crisis – mostly stemming from local officials as opposed to residents.  The borough of Malvern has a charm that doesn’t need super-sizing with giant Tyvec wrapped buildings that will end up looking like a New Urbanism Disneyland.

Malvern will sacrifice any  charm of the area  and the traffic will be a nightmare.

I think parts of Malvern may end up looking as unattractive as parts of Eagle, another tiny community developers had a “vision” for.  When municipalities suffer an identity crisis, the residents and business owners are the ones who suffer in the end.

I sure hope I am wrong about Malvern and these plans, but I don’t think so. What I see are future buildings just sitting right on the street without sufficient setbacks like Jabba the Hutt, architecture (if you can call it that) that picks up zero cues from its surroundings, over-abundance of density abutting train tracks and an urban feel all wrong for a somewhat sleepy  and small Chester County borough town.

And mark my words, just because they build it it does not mean they will come.  And if they come, they might not be what you wanted.

But the horse is out of the barn on this one. So we’ll just wait and see.  Hopefully I won’t be able to say I told you so.  But again, honestly, I think Malvern had better enjoy Malvern before it’s gone.