Whitemarsh Township’s Planning Commission Shoots Down 61 Proposed Townhouses

Tonight the Whitemarsh Township Planning Commission voted unanimously to not recommend to the Board of Supervisors a text amendment that would allow a 61-unit townhouse community on a property at Militia Hill Road and Stenton Avenue which falls within the CLI-District (Campus-Type Limited Industrial District). The planning commission also voted unanimously to not recommend the Board of Supervisors hold a hearing on the issue.

A few things to note:

The Planning Commission only makes a recommendation. The Board of Supervisors can choose to ignore the recommendation. It makes the final decision.

The Board of Supervisors can choose to ignore a proposed text amendment. Anyone can submit one. There is no obligation to consider a text amendment.

The difference between this issue and say the now approved Abolition Hall townhouses is that this property is within a zoning district that doesn’t permit townhouses. That is why the developer, Judd Associates, sought to have that district’s zoning amended. This wasn’t the case in Abolition Hall, which fell in a different zoning district that allowed townhouses as a conditional use (meaning they had to make a case for why they should be allowed).

During public comments. there were a couple of shots taken at Whitemarsh Township about the notification system for these type of meetings. In addition to Whitemarsh, we cover West Conshohocken, Conshohocken, and Plymouth. Whitemarsh, by far, has the best notification system. The others aren’t even comparable. If you register to receive the emails, you will receive a notification every time an agenda is announced and every time it is amended leading up to the meeting date. No one else has that. Whitemarsh also posts to its website all the submitted development plans. None of the other three do that.

The lawyer for the developer made an interesting comment on how the proposed amendment set a condition of 20 acres for a property within the
CLI-District to qualify to build townhouses. The lawyer stated that due to the 20-acre condition, there wasn’t another property (unless someone knocked buildings down) that could qualify. His intent was to show that there wouldn’t be a flood of townhouse development due to this text amendment. During the recent hearing involving the validity challenge of the Wawa ordinance in Conshohocken, the winning argument was that in the case of the Wawa text amendment it created an island (the conditions to allow something only exists within this one property). Thus it was spot zoning. The attorney tonight for the developer basically admitted they were creating an island.

Based on the discussion, the cost of this property was about $2 million. Based on the reaction from the members of the Planning Commission and the public comment, there is a desire for more open space.

While people didn’t like the lawyer for the developer pointing out that a 100,000 square foot office building with 500 parking spaces could be built on the property without the need for any approval, he was only sharing the reality of the situation (that Whitemarsh Township created, not the developer).