In the very last days of May, developers Eli Kahn and Gary Toll presented to the West Chester Planning Commission their plans for a 181-unit apartment building on the corner of Wayne and Market Streets. The proposal involved the consolidation of four separate lots – where currently sits a littering of empty buildings from the hefty former home of Mitch’s Gym to the perhaps motor-oiled-soaked remnants of Al’s Automotive and Avis Rent-a-Car. 

While the Planning Commission applauded the developers on their investment in the Borough, they raised concerns about the building’s size, design, and durability. The design, they conceded, aligns pretty well with the current zoning code. 


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“You get what you zone for,” Planning Commission member Thomas Doughtery told me in a separate discussion on the topic. The current zoning code mandates a minimum lot size but not a maximum. This makes it easier to consolidate parcels into one massive lot than it does to subdivide them into the small lot sizes found throughout much of the historic district. 

Despite the large size, developers vowed to connect the new building with the rest of downtown by using “the guiding principles” set forth by West Chester’s Historic District. This includes integrating design details such as “brick soldier courses,” “corbeled brick patterns, “accent bands,” and “cast stone window sills.” 

The Planning Commission also picked up on this connection to West Chester’s historic district. “The architectural design is supposed to follow HARB guidelines, and this design doesn’t,” Planning Commission Chair Jason Birl told developers. 

HARB is West Chester’s Historical & Architectural Review Board which, according to the Borough’s website, is tasked with advising Borough Council on applications to demolish, renovate and alter buildings in the Borough’s Historic District. Considering development plan approval deadlines, it is not clear how the review process would work should the project need HARB approval.  

Mr. Birl also noted that, per zoning requirements, the building should have a retail component. Developers have been using what is called “amenity space,” aka your pool, gyms, dog washing centers, in lieu of retail. In some cases, such as Chestnut Square, the Planning Commission has agreed this is acceptable. Mr. Birl, however, wanted developers to understand this is not a given and suggested in this case, something like an urban grocery might be considered. 

Trader Joe’s, perhaps?

Published, June 16, 2023

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