SANATOGA PA – Despite past pursuit of new retail growth at the Sanatoga interchange of U.S. Route 422, and in the heart of Sanatoga village, the Lower Pottsgrove Board of Commissioners heard Thursday (March 21, 2013) that its best bet for attracting future jobs and tax revenues may lie in courting one form of business that surrounding municipalities don’t yet cater to: research and development (R&D) firms.
A fiscal impact and market analysis report created late last year for the Pottstown Metropolitan Regional Planning Commission by TischlerBise, a fiscal, economic and planning consulting firm, suggests the township would benefit from adding R&D activity as an accepted category under its zoning laws. With it, the report adds, Lower Pottsgrove could be better positioned to woo R&D companies to both the busy interchange and the increasingly busier industrial area at the south end of Armand Hammer Boulevard.
Although consumers flock to shopping centers, Montgomery County Planning Commission representative John Cover told the board, retailing “has more or less reached its saturation point” and is overbuilt within the county. Most new centers – he cited Upland Square in Pottstown as an example – now often consist of retailers who simply moved from an older location to a new one, Cover said.
Instead, Lower Pottsgrove might spur new opportunities by encouraging an “interchange business technology park” off 422 at Sanatoga, according to the report, as well as the option for an R&D campus on the former Occidental Chemical property just two miles west at the Armand Hammer interchange.
The report’s proposals are being discussed at what some local experts claim may be a critical time in the township’s commercial history:
- More shopping center business on Lower Pottsgrove’s side of the Sanatoga interchange, similar to those of the Philadelphia Premium Outlets and Costco projects on the Limerick Township side, has not materialized. That’s due in part to the stalled economy, coupled with reduced consumer spending. It may take up to 30 years to see more complete retail build-out there, the report speculates.
- More retail business has left Sanatoga village, also for economic reasons. The former Rite-Aid pharmacy at North Pleasant View Road and East High Street, and the former Hollywood Video and InkStop locations in the Sanatoga Center plaza on the opposite side of East High, have remained vacant for several years.
- On the other hand, professional office and other tenants are quickly filling remaining spaces in the small complex off Heritage Drive, many of them to be in proximity to either Pottstown Memorial Medical Center or Exelon’s Limerick Generating Station. Similarly, more tenants are leasing available space at the former Occidental tract on Armand Hammer Boulevard, re-christened as the Tri-County Commerce Park.
- A Pennsylvania Department of Transportation overhaul of the Armand Hammer interchange at 422, now under way, will be finished within six years. It is expected to make the commerce park and other land in the township’s south end along the Schuylkill River more accessible for a variety of uses more quickly than the time needed for retailing to bloom in Sanatoga.
- And the south end has a proven track record of fostering technologically oriented companies, including Bassett Industries Inc., Emperor Aquatics Inc., and Valtech Corporation. There’s plenty of room for others at “the river bend,” according to the report.
“We’d be very happy to have new industry located out here,” board President Jonathan Spadt added. “We need to get the word out that our area has a lot to offer.” He pledged to read the thick report in full.
Cover also echoed the report’s warning that too much development may actually end up costing the township more revenue than it brings in. “It seems counter-intuitive, but in some cases ‘the less growth the better’,” he noted. Why? Over time, Cover explained, unplanned growth likely will require more expense for roads, open space, police and other services that will exceed the value of jobs and tax payments it attracts.
Related (to the Lower Pottsgrove Board of Commissioners’ March 21 meeting):
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