On Wednesday night, Keystone Property Group presented an updated plan to redevelop a block long and half-block wide group of adjacent properties along Lower Fayette Street between West Elm and West First Avenue. The properties include a grass covered area next to the Washington Fire Company at the corner of West Elm and Fayette, the adjacent old fire house, an existing building at 1 West First Avenue, an existing office building at 100 West Elm Street and a parking garage off West First Avenue.
The plan is to build a 200′ boutique hotel at the corner of West Elm and Fayette, build two larger office buildings to replace the existing buildings, add 1,200 underground parking space, add 300 public parking spaces in an expanded parking deck and create a public square smack in the middle.
We attended two presentations by Keystone this week, one on Tuesday night at a meeting of Conshohocken’s Business Development Commission and the Wednesday night Borough Council meeting. We also spent about 45 minutes at Keystone Property Group’s office last week discussing the proposal with Keystone’s President and CEO Bill Glazer. Interesting questions and answers came from all of these, so the bullets contain information we found interesting or important from all of the relevant meetings.
- The process currently taking place is basically a negotiation. Keystone needs Borough Council to create the special zoning district to allow for the type of buildings it wants to build. Borough Council doesn’t need to accept it as it currently is. Council can ask for things to be changed and altered to suit what it thinks is best. So if you like most of the proposal, but have concerns about specific aspects, those can all be addressed and potentially altered. It is not an all or nothing scenario.
- If approved, Keystone will build the hotel, parking and public square, plus rehab the old fire house, as soon as they have permits. The two office building will not be built until either has a anchor tenant. That means there is a chance they neither would ever be built. They hope to break ground on the first phase in April 2015.
- There is 20,000 to 30,000 square feet within the redevelopment area designated for retail use. Keystone estimates that it will lease at $40.00+ per square foot.
- Keystone plans to focus on bringing in local companies to fill the retail space, not national chains.
- With the hotel and firehouse, there will be a minimum of two new restaurants and liquor licences added to the Borough.
- The semicircle hotel entrance off Fayette Street was the only facet of the plan questioned by Borough Council. Councilperson Anita Barton (4th Ward) asked if there was any way that it could be changed. The concern is that those coming from over the bridge to go to the hotel will need to make a left hand turn through already backed up traffic during rush hour. There will also be cars slowing down to turn into the hotel and cars entering traffic all from the space spot.
- Keystone stressed that the hotel does not generate rush hour traffic and that there are a handful of access points into the redevelopment area, including entrances and exits off West Elm and West First.
- Keystone stressed that the redevelopment is a Transit Oriented Development, which means it is close and convenient to use public transportation if working or visiting the visiting the property.
- One concept for the redevelopment is that people won’t necessarily get to work at 9:00 a.m. and leave right at 5:00 p.m. There will be a lot to do with the square, restaurants and rooftop amenities, so that will encourage off peak commuting.
- One thing mentioned that was new to us is that extended stay hotels have been approached to be the hotel operator.
There are a few things that need to be considered:
- Just last year Borough Council altered the height of buildings allowed in the special zoning districts. It had been previously been 250 feet and was changed to 75 feet. Obviously this limited what could be built on the riverfront, where the special zoning districts exist, and will Borough Council be willing to to permit an increase in the height of buildings when they just lowered them last year. And remember, it wouldn’t be an increase from 75 feet to 200 feet, but the 40 feet that is currently allowed along Fayette between Elm and 8th Avenue in the Commercial Zoning District.
- The definition of what a national chain means needs to be more clearly defined. And if it comes down to it, are some chains more acceptable than others? Are regional chains ok, or are they not going to be considered as well?
- Should all or some of homes along West Hector and West 1st be included in the new zoning district so those properties become more valuable and the home owners can get out in the best possible financial position?
- Should St. Mary Parish be included as well? If so, the district would extend all the way down to Maple Street.
Below you can view a good portion of the presentation, questions from Borough Council and public comment: