SANATOGA PA – Creation of two new zoning districts that affect 36 properties on the west side of Evergreen Road, south of U.S. Route 422, was unanimously approved Monday (Aug. 4, 2014) by the Lower Pottsgrove Board of Commissioners. With them in place, developers claimed they were ready to start building a hotel that has attracted what they described as “significant interest” from national chains.
But a lengthy discussion on rezoning the parcels from Limited Industrial Use to Gateway Mixed-Use and Gateway Residential Overlay made it clear some property owners – and at one point, even board President Bruce Foltz – were confused by proposed benefits of the change.
A different developer, whose properties are included in the districts, said he believed the rezoning was not in the township’s best interests.
Gateway Mixed Use allows a variety of commercial and professional projects; Gateway Residential Overlay accompanies them with homes and apartments. Both will let a project known as Sanatoga Green to move forward on 44 acres of mostly vacant land located between the Sanatoga Center independent living and nursing home complex, 225 Evergreen Rd., and the upper portion of Sanatoga Park on South Park Road.
An attorney representing Sanatoga Green told commissioners rezoning for what he said was “the hotel piece” – a plan to erect 80 to 100 rooms of nationally branded lodging – “will allow us to get started immediately” on finalizing negotiations with franchisees, drawing up specifications and blueprints, and submitting them for Planning Commission and board approval. The process could take months.
More than just Sanatoga Green lies within the districts, however. Private property owners, whose homes on a half-acre or less were built decades ago and could potentially be surrounded by new commercial and residential structures, bemoaned the belief that they would be unable to sell at fair market value and move out. “I can’t even put my home up for sale,” worried Flo Hendrickson of 217 Evergreen Rd. “It’s unmarketable,” she said.
Others expressed similar concerns. Sanatoga Fire Company President Donald Woodley Jr., who lives at 209 Evergreen, said the need for a zoning variance to permit other than existing but non-conforming residential uses hampered selling the homes. “I don’t see why you’re picking on us,” added Debi Patton, 193 Evergreen.
They weren’t picking on anyone, board members insisted, and at Foltz’s request briefly adjourned from the municipal building conference room to “caucus” in the adjacent office of Manager Ed Wagner. After they re-emerged Foltz said he was surprised and admittedly confused by the public reaction to what was deemed by commissioners as a positive revision. Then he turned to special counsel Michael Furey to offer an explanation.
Under the former Limited Industrial Use, Furey noted, owners who desired to sell their properties could seek primarily two kinds of potential buyers: those who wanted to live in the existing homes, or those who wanted to convert the property into an allowed industry. In the new districts, he added, property owners have far more usability options and could sell to a broader base of buyers.
Although size variances might be needed in either case – the minimum lot size in the mixed-use district is 2 acres – they likely would be easier to obtain than usage waivers, Furey said. “Light industrial hurts you,” board Vice President Stephen Klotz chipped in. “Gateway Mixed-Use helps you.”
“Now that’s what I wanted to hear,” Woodley responded.
The explanation did not meet the needs, however, of attorney Paul Tornetta. He said he spoke for Sanatoga Land Holdings Inc., identified by Dun and Bradstreet as a Conshohocken-based company formed in 2010, that had been investing in properties along Evergreen Road for some time. He sought, but was denied, an extension of the hearing until Sept. 25, when he said expert witnesses would be available to talk to commissioners.
Tornetta specifically criticized the township’s plans to improve the environmental quality of developments under a “sustainability credit” program that is part of the mixed-use approval.
Related (to the Lower Pottsgrove Board of Commissioners’ Aug. 4 meeting):
- Rezoning OK Allows ‘Sanatoga Green’ To Move Ahead
- Commissioners Decline Family Dollar Sanatoga Plan
- Hearing Tonight Affects Sanatoga Development Plans
- Despite residents’ concerns, Lower Pottsgrove adopts new Sanatoga zoning (The Mercury)
- In The Zone (Digital Notebook)
Zoning map from Lower Pottsgrove Township