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Lower Pottsgrove Considers Planning Changes

A retailer on Sanatoga’s west end wants to move a sidewalk, and re-align some parking spaces, to make it easier for customers to get in and out of its store. The cost: a few thousand dollars. The benefit, the business says, could be huge. Safer, happier customers, it believes, will buy more products and spend more money.

The retailer’s problem, according to Lower Pottsgrove (PA) Township Assistant Manager Alyson Elliott, is that making such relatively minor exterior changes currently requires approval of the township Planning Board. “To be honest,” Elliott told board members last month, “you probably shouldn’t even be bothering with this.” The retailer’s project is too small and relatively insignificant, she indicated.

Currently, planning approval is needed even for minor changes affecting only the property owner.

Currently, planning approval is needed even for minor changes affecting only the property owner.

Yet bother they must, because township law demands it. The business will invest time and effort to prepare necessary paperwork, take more time to submit it, then wait for planners to consider and act on the request. Ultimately, if approved, the alterations will affect only the property owner and none of its neighbors or the general public.

Details of the project are expected to be delivered soon, maybe by the board’s Oct. 20 meeting. This particular retailer can’t avoid pleading its case, but in the future property owners who face similar circumstances could skip a review if the township Board of Commissioners agrees to change Lower Pottsgrove’s planning laws.

Such changes are being drafted and discussed now, and might show up at the commissioners’ conference table during December.

One change being proposed is to set what Elliott describes as “de minimis” planning standards. The Latin phrase translates to “about minimal things,” and alludes to matters that are not worthy of legal attention.

Just what is minimal – and to whom – may be a matter of debate depending on the parties and properties involved. De minimis standards might be regulated by how much square footage a project affects, or how much it costs, or how much time it takes to complete, or by several other measurements or even a combination of them.

Some qualified expert, possible the township’s engineer or an employee of the Montgomery County (PA) Planning Department, would make a de minimis determination and recommend whether or not any project merited Planning Board action. Elliott is consulting with other townships where de minimis standards are already enacted to suggest what works.

Another proposed planning law change, Elliott says, would create new protection for natural features such as streams, steep slopes, wetlands, and trees or forests on a property. A third would require developers to disclose “peculiarities” about land or lots being sold to potential buyers. Still others address open space standards and the location of garages.

Collectively, the assistant manager says, the proposals “allow us to create some interesting planning features” that either were not important or problematic when township planning rules were  last revised. Additionally, Elliott notes, they “would clarify” the township’s intent in planning-related matters, and “at the same time provide some continuity.”

Related (from the Sept. 15, 2008, Lower Pottsgrove planning board meeting):

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