Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Key is the Highway in West Pottsgrove

The shaded area on this map between High Street and the Schuylkill River shows the area which could be developed under the guidelines Pottstown Borough and West Pottsgrove Township are being asked to agree to and work toward.

West Pottsgrove Township Commissioners Wednesday voted 4-1 to move ahead with a plan to work together with Pottstown Borough to try to develop, or in some cases re-develop, the 255 acres along the Schuylkill River south of High Street.

Commissioners Chairman Steve Miller cast the dissenting vote after repeatedly asking the representatives from the Montgomery County Planning Commission and PAID whether the 13 owners of the properties in question had made any commitment to contributing to what could amount to an improvement to their properties.

The primary issue is the extension of Keystone Boulevard, which currently connects to College Drive in the borough and was always intended to continue through West Pottsgrove and the former Flagg Brass site to reach Grosstown Road.

Now that PennDOT is re-aligning Route 422 and creating a new, more user-friendly Grosstown Road interchange, the connection significantly increases the attractiveness of the acreage there, said John Cover, chief of community planning for the Montgomery County Planning Commission.

They key question, if you'll allow me the pun, is who will pay to extend the road?

"It looks to me like you guys want West Pottsgrove to do the heavy lifting while these guys get the benefit," Miller said, who three times asked why none of the property owners had ever appeared before the township board to explain their support and their willingness to contribute.

Peggy Lee-Clark, executive director of Pottstown Area Industrial Development, said many of the owners have agreed to make a contribution, adding "I just can't give you a dollar figure right now because we don't have all the costs."

The vote the commissioners took authorizes the formation of a permanent committee, with representatives from both West Pottsgrove and the borough, and makes them part of a memorandum of understanding that will allow for two things -- an engineering study and a request seeking out interested developers.

For the developers, said Cover, the road will be a central question. It is up to the
This conceptual design from a presentation made in
shows "high-end" residential
developments along 
Route 100 in Pottstown.
elected officials to decide whether to build it first to attract developers, or wait to see if any developers or property owners volunteer to help with the costs.

"The big obstacle," Cover said, "is the road and expecting a developer to do that may be a bridge too far. Otherwise the properties may remain the way they are."

"Building the road first requires a leap of faith, but sometimes development requires that," said Cover.

The concept calls for a mix of development including residential, described as “high-end apartments,” and non-residential uses, which include industrial, office and research and development.

Because so much of the design work has already been done, Michael Narcowich, a principal planner with the Montgomery County Planning Commission, said the defined plan can supercede zoning “and allow a developer to proceed directly to final plan approval,” during a presentation to Pottstown Borough Council in February.

Allowing a developer who follows the plan to proceed to the final planning step “is a powerful tool” to attract developers and gives the municipalities more direct control over what gets built, said Community Planning Chief John Cover.

West Pottsgrove Commissioner Mark Green noted that most of the $10 million tax benefit goes to Pottstown. "That's because their tax millage rate is much higher," Cover replied.

According to the planning commission’s analysis, a build out of the plan would provide an additional $65.2 million in increased property value for the residential portion in the borough; and $47.2 million for West Pottsgrove.

On the non-residential side of the equation, a build out would result in another $51.8 million in non-residential property assessment for Pottstown, and another $37.5 million for West Pottsgrove.

All together, that a total of $201.8 million added to the tax base of the two towns.

In Pottstown, that would add an additional $1.2 million annually to the borough budget and another $4.6 million in tax revenues to the school budget.

In West Pottsgrove, the township would see an additional $211,819 in annual tax revenues and the Pottsgrove School District would see $3,208,039 more in taxes every year.

That's revenue the township might want to consider given that later in the meeting, Township Manager Craig Lloyd said Montgomery County recently informed him the total assessed value of property in West Pottsgrove is now $179,529,641, down from $200 million the previous year.

Green also remarked that before Pottstown looks to partner with West Pottsgrove, "they should get their downtown in shape first. Pottstown is going down the tubes."

Lee-Clark said she "takes issue" with that view, pointing to at least a half-dozen success stories going on in downtown Pottstown right now, including a microbrewery, a new restaurant and an engineering firm that will soon employ 50 people.

Cover agreed, saying "there is increased interest in Pottstown and they are on the verge. It's a good time to be a developer in Pottstown right now."

That being said, Lee-Clark said there is not as much vacant commercial space in the borough as some may believe, and there is a market to develop the property along the river.

"I get calls every day about space in Pottstown, and the calls are increasing," said Lee-Clark, adding "and there is a need to space and expansion out there."

Of course, being along the river, much of that property is already in the flood plain, and so anyone who wants to develop it will need lots of fill to raise it above the flood plain level.

We don't say this too often, but "PennDOT to the rescue!"

Cover said the ongoing project to rebuild Route 422, including the Grosstown Road interchange and two new bridges is generating a lot of fill, which is usually expensive to transport.

But thanks to an agreement by the owners of the 80-acre former Flagg Brass property, that fill is being stored there free of charge and will be available free to help raise the developments and the Keystone Boulevard extension above the flood plain level.

In Other News

There are two other things worth reporting out of last night's meeting.

The first is confirmation of what most had already guessed at. Township Manager Craig Lloyd said with the purchase of the YMCA building in Pottstown by a private developer, the organization has indicated it has no interest in running the pool program at the township pool this summer.

As a result, the pool will remain closed.

Also, Miller announced the remaining community day committee planning meetings are July 10, Aug. 7, Aug. 21 and Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. in the township meeting room. The event is planned for Oct. 13, with a rain date of Oct. 14.

And with that, here are the Tweets:

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