This week lawyers, developers, engineers, architects, and traffic planners, most in sleek suits from well-connected firms, stood before West Chester’s Planning Commission on Tuesday evening with seemingly two goals – one, to introduce their new mixed-use project planned for 410 S. High, current home of the abandoned Burger King, and two, calm the fears of the three dozen or more residents that had crowded into Borough Chambers ready to voice concerns. Here’s what you missed:
Details of the project:
- Project overview: Plans call for a mixed-use building with first-floor retail, 125 1BR and 2BR apartments (700 sq. ft and 1150 sq. ft respectively) above, and parking below.
- Parking: 114 residential spaces, 31 retail spaces, and 25 “bonus” residential spaces
- Traffic flow: Traffic to the property will enter and exit on Dean and Price Streets. The entrance ramp on High Street will be removed.
- Design: There are no architectural renderings available at this time but the architect has indicated he will pull his design cues from the town center rather than the neighboring residential areas.
- Developer: Pete Staz, Principal owner, Core Development
- Architect: Timothy Cassidy, Bernardon
- West Chester Planning Commission: Members
- Borough: Kevin Gore, West Chester Building and Housing Director
- Residents of West Chester’s 3rd Ward – others were there, of course, but these represented the majority of voices.
WHAT THE DEVELOPERS WANT YOU TO KNOW:
They are from this area – and even if they don’t live here, per se, they often work and/or dine here.
They have done this before – Developer Pete Staz of Core Development touted his company’s work on the award-winning Cricket Flats and Shops in Ardmore that combined “77 luxury apartments with 12,000 sq ft of retail space and a 105 space parking garage.” The same architecture firm, although, not the same architect, designed the 44 West Plaza at the corner of High and Gay Streets. The engineer (I think. It was hard to keep track of all the name-dropping) worked on the Chestnut Square Apartments. Anyway, you get their point.
They care about this community. “I believe our values match those of the community,” Mr. Staz said early in his presentation, shortly after mentioning his daughter’s affinity for Insomnia Cookies. “We are passionate about vibrant town centers and we’ve developed a handful of them,” he said.
They can do this by right, or at least they believe they can. This essentially means the plans they are presenting – the building height, location on the lot, provided parking, and stormwater requirements – fall squarely within West Chester’s Zoning Code requirements for building in the town center. It is their belief they will not need to request any variances from the Borough. They are looking for a couple of waivers regarding the proximity of the stormwater mitigation system to the exterior wall of the underground parking garage.
TOP CONCERNS FROM EVERYONE ELSE:
Parking. While parking for the site is said to be self-contained, residents raised concerns about the potential for Borough guest passes for residents as well as spaces lost to a Dean Street entrance.
Traffic. This was a concern raised by many. “I think it might be a little understated,” Planning Commission member Matthew Clap said of the traffic impact to spontaneous applause from the audience. Resident Ann Carrol suggested the traffic engineers were not out at the correct times. “Peak travel is when classes change,” she said of the neighborhood’s many university students. An increased number of delivery trucks and large vehicles was also raised as a concern.
Walking experience. The current site plan has a double sidewalk going down High Street. There is to be a street-level sidewalk that would pass by the concrete wall of the underground parking garage and an elevated, upward-sloping sidewalk that would bring you past the shop windows and then down a flight of stairs (or presumably an ADA ramp) to return to the existing street level sidewalk. A lot of questions were raised about this design. “What is the High Street experience going to be?” Planning Commission member Thomas Dougherty asked. This was echoed by residents. “This is supposed to be a walking Borough,” one stated.
Size. With plans that reach just about the edge of the property line, the sheer bulk of the building had many worried. “Is there a shadow study being done?” asked resident Richard Eagles.“Think through the details of the facade and the impact on that corner,” advised Planning Commission Chair Jason Birl. “I would like to see it more open.” Member Dougherty agreed. He referenced neighboring “Burger View,” a Clinton Alley development project affectionately named for its proximity to the Burger King. In that development, architects meticulously set out to recreate the homes on Darlington Street down to the detail of the window placement. “I would like to see something more like that, that represents the character of the Borough,” said Dougherty.
In all, it was a lot of feedback for the developers to consider. However, with potentially little they need from the Borough (there are questions about height and setbacks that suggest they may not technically meet Zoning requirements), we’ll have to wait and see how much they take to heart and how much leverage the Borough has to encourage them to do more.
Was there anything on which everyone agreed? Actually, yes, nearly everyone agreed it is nice something is being done with the lot.
Next steps – The saga continues at next month’s Planning Commission meeting. Expect to see architectural renderings for the project and perhaps get a vote on the preliminary plans.
Want to see the drama for yourself? It’s now available on YouTube.
Originally published, Mar. 31, 2023
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