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West Chester Borough Council to Vote on Preliminary Development Plans for Mitch’s Gym

Preliminary plans for an apartment complex on the site of Mitch’s Gym move to Borough Council for final approval.

Late last month, during their scheduled voting session, West Chester’s Planning Commission approved, by a vote of six to one, the preliminary development plans for the consolidated W. Market Street lot that includes Mitch’s Gym. According to the application summary, the new complex will reach a height of 60 feet and include 185 units with 215 parking spaces. 

Since the news first broke three months ago, questions have been raised about the building’s size, its exterior, the traffic it will generate, and whether or not the builders have complied with all necessary zoning requirements. 

Here’s a look at the concerns and the builder’s response:

Above: Revised architectural design simplifies the exterior of the building. Below: Architect Bernardon explains how design elements are being used to make the large building feel smaller.

Size and appearance. It’s been suggested the building is too big and doesn’t match the surrounding downtown aesthetic. According to the Borough Zoning Code, a building or structure can be built up to 60 feet within the height overlay district. The builder argues the plot falls within that district and is therefore eligible for the increased height. Some on the Planning Commission believe the height increase comes with conditions. 

“They clearly are not following the HARB guidelines to get the extra 15 feet of height that they are supposed to,” said Planning Commission (and HARB) member Thomas Dougherty. He is hopeful Borough Council will address the issue. 

Regarding appearance, which has been questioned for appearing too large and using too many materials, the builders responded by saying the building is not within the HARB district but does comply, in their opinion, with the recommendations set forth by the Historic and Architecture Review Board.

While architect Bernardon has made some modifications to simplify the exterior of the building, the changes do not go as far as many had hoped. Developers have, however, agreed to convert the sidewalks to brick to match the rest of downtown. 

First floor retail. It was suggested the builders consider adding first-floor retail instead of just providing residential amenities as planned. The Borough has presented this is a requirement of the height extension to 60 feet. The builders have responded by noting that the building does not fall within the retail overlay district therefore, it is their understanding retail is not required.  

A shadow study shows how the new apartments will impact other buildings in the area.

Traffic and parking. Concerns have been raised over increased traffic in the area especially along adjacent alleyways which were not designed to accommodate excess vehicles or large moving trucks. However, a completed traffic study suggests there will be no issues. Each unit will have its own parking space and residents will not be allowed to participate in the Borough’s Residential Parking Permit or guest program. 

Historic preservation. Some have suggested that both Mitch’s and the small gas station on the corner of Wayne and Market hold historic value and should be preserved. The builder however rejected this idea. “We have determined that the existing building cannot be renovated to achieve the program requirements of a market-rate residential project. Therefore, we are seeking permission from the Borough Council for the demolition of the existing structures.” They did, however, offer to put up a plaque.

Green space. The building as designed lacks adequate outdoor recreational space. Instead of correcting, the developer has indicated they will pay a fee to the Borough.  

The plans will now go to Borough Council for review at their next work session on Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m. (This is what should happen but agendas weren’t live as of this writing so you may just want to check before you go.) 

Originally published, Sept. 24, 2023

This story is part of a longer weekly West Chester newsletter. Curious what else is going on? You can find the full issue here and the latest newsletter here. Even easier? Subscribe here to get future issues delivered directly to your inbox.

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