On May 4th there were two proposals for apartment developments at the Plymouth Meeting Mall on the agenda for the Plymouth Township Planning Agency. The first involved Keystone Development + Investment seeking a conditional use for 150 apartments that would be within a long-vacant office building adjacent to the mall. The second involved PREIT, the owner of most of the property at the mall, seeking a special exception to demolish a long-vacant office building and replace it will a 300-unit apartment building. The planning agency’s task was to consider making a recommendation to the township’s council in regard to Keystone’s proposal and the zoning hearing board in regard to PREIT.
In both cases, the members of the planning commission stressed that while they feel apartments would help bring new life to the mall, they were unwilling to recommend any apartments at the mall until there was a unified plan for the property and a plan for improved infrastructure. For example, Keystone owns a few acres in the middle of the mall property and since it does not own the entrances and exits of the mall, it can not make any improvements to alleviate concerns over traffic generated by its apartment building. While PREIT’s plan did include improvements to the entrances and exits, those were in relation to its property and not coordinated with Keystone’s plan or other possible changes at the mall.
Another big infrastructure concern was the portion of the sewer system that serves the mall. The system flows from the mall, under Germantown Pike, through Arthur’s Court, and continues further down the line. There is a belief by the township, based on calculations from engineers, that there is a possibility the system could be overloaded by apartments and the negative impact would be realized at Arthur’s Court. According to a source, the township had believed that upgrading this portion of the system would cost in the $1-to-$2 million dollar range, but bids came in at over $4 million and thus far have not taken any action.
In addition to the vote specifically about the apartments, there was a vote by the planning agency’s members to request that the township council work with PREIT and Keystone to develop a unified plan for the mall to revitalize it. While the township’s council has amended the zoning to allow life-science-type office space within the mall, assisted living, and apartments in a very specific set of circumstances (which Keystone’s proposal likely meets), there hasn’t been a broader plan that encompasses the entire property and its infrastructure. It has been more of a “whack-a-mole” type response (our words, no one used that last night) instead of a long-term vision. That is what the planning agency is asking to be created before it recommends any apartments.
In other businesses, the planning agency recommended the approval of a conditional plan for a Royal Farms location that was approved to move forward last year at 906 Ridge Pike in Conshohocken (Plymouth Township).
Photo: Rendering of PREIT’s proposed apartments shown at the meeting