Fenstermacher Property Rezoning Approved, Residents Oppose Change
WB Homes has proposed to develop townhomes and twins on the former Class A Residential property
WB Homes is one step closer to bringing its Williamson Square land development to Fourth Street and North Line Street on the former Fenstermacher Roofing location.
Lansdale Borough Council held a public hearing Wednesday night to amend the borough zoning map to change parcels at 405 and 421 N. Line Street from Residential Class A to Residential Class B, and to amend text in the Class B zoning to permit unlotted developments on the parcel.
Despite protest from a handful of residents to keep the Residential A zoning intact, borough council went on to unanimously approve the zoning change.
The applicant, Prospect Acquisitions LP, is an affiliate of WB Homes.
WB Homes and Prospect Acquisitions must go through the land development process, which includes approval from the planning commission, Design Review Board and borough council.
The rezoned property is bordered by the Fourth Street Park and Zion Presbyterian Korean Church, formerly Line Street School. The Fenstermacher property was a non-conforming Limited Industrial use in a Class A Residential property.
"We’d like to develop this as townhomes and twins. The Class A Residential allows for several residential uses, single-family homes and twins being such, but does not allow for townhomes," said Chris Canavan, director of acquisitions for WB Homes.
"We are trying to buy a non-conforming Limited Industrial property that has a certain value in the marketplace that, under current zoning, we would not be able to buy for residential use and reuse the property," Canavan said. "The nature of our petition is to allow us to redeveop the site in a way that we think is an appropraote transition from Class A Residential."
The sketch plan under Class B Residential shows 14 townhomes in two 7-unit buildings, with one driveway spot and one garage for each townhome. The plan also calls for eight twin homes, at four buildings with two units to each building.
One townhome building would front on Line Street with an alley to the rear. The second building would have alley access to a new private street off of Fourth Street. Canavan said the townhomes would be similar to Cannon Square.
The twin units would be 2,100 square feet with two car garages and two driveway spots. Each twin would be 24 feet wide and 38 feet deep. Each twin would have a rear deck.
The proposal calls for all improvements within the development to be held and maintained by a homeowners' association.
"The nature of the ownership is such that that individual unit owner buys the footprint of the building," Canavan said. "It's not a condo."
Canavan said the rezoning is an appropriate transitiion from Class A to Class B.
"It allows us to take what is a non-conforming Limited Industrial use in Class A Residential and turn it into conforming residential development under Class B," he said.
Councilman Paul Clemente thanked Canavan for his presentation, and liked the thought of mentioning future use and what it could potentially look like at the site. Clemente then asked Kevin Dunigan, vice chairman of the borough planning commission, for his thoughts on the proposal.
Dunigan said the planning commission saw the parcel as fairly undesirable in a residential zoning district.
"One way to get it out of there is to buy your way out of it," Dunigan said.
He said the increased density gets lighter as one comes into the neighborhood and goes up to the pool.
"Any increased density is not in anybody's backyard," Dunigan said. "It actually comes up to borough parkland."
He said the proposal is a great use for a parcel that is non-conforming.
"This is a beautiful use of that piece, and again, you have to consider what could be there as a Limited Industrial use. It could be a body shop, it could be anything of that nature and that would be allowed," Dunigan said.
Clemente told Canavan that if what he and his company has done thus far with Cannon Square is any indication, he is very impressed.
Councilman Mike Sobel called the current property "a garbage dump."
"I do have people complain about trash being thrown into those woods, and nobody is there to clean that up at this point," Sobel said. "This is going to be fantastic for that area, and it doesn’t look like it will be a huge impact on neighbors."
Councilman Rich DiGregorio asked if a buffer was necessary between the property and the park.
Dunigan said a buffer is not necessary.
"We find that anytime that somebody's unhappy, we placate them with what ends up being 45-foot white pine trees which end up looking dreadful," he said. "We are here to create a walkable community and a walkable community has connectivity. Connectivity means you can walk from your neighbor's property to the next neighbor's property, not wrapping little white pines around things. That’s not connectivity; that’s exclusivity."
Dunigan said the planning commission works tirelessly to avoid that. He said the borough doesn't want to end up with a "landscape mess" like Merck did on Broad Street where you can't see the million-dollar beautiful buildings.
"There's no buffer there now, but buffer from whom? There's kids playing in the public park, there's T-ball playing on the public field, this is not what we want to separate neighbors from," Dunigan said. "This is what we all came here to live with. If you live near a ballfield, you have to listen to kids play ball. That’s all there is to it."
Residents residing near the parcel expressed their opposition to the zoning change. They either wanted the borough to keep it as is, or buy it for open space.
Edgemont Avenue resident James Love asked if the developer considered the impact on Knapp Elementary School. Canavan said he had not addressed the issue with the school district.
Canavan continued that the target buyer for the twins are families. At eight houses and an average of two youths per house, that's 16 children.
The townhomes are marketed toward first-time homebuyers, either single or newlyweds, who are interested in buying their first home. They will have children, he said, but they typically move to a larger home with a yard.
"The number of children that come out of a 22-unit subdivision is not one that would typically have any great impact on any school," Canavan said.
Neil Migliaccio, of Hemlock Street, called himself a Lansdalian, as he's been in the borough all his life. He thanked council for all the great developments in town.
"What council is missing out on, what we need here, is not all this development. We need more open space," he said. "This council has the money to buy that property, and that’s what they should be doing: buying that property and making it open space and adding to our parks."
Migliaccio said he wanted the parcel to remain Class A Residential.
"All the properties are A Residential. I want that property to stay A Residential. Don’t compare Cannon Square to this; it's not A Residential," he said. "We need open space."
Lorenzo DelPinto, of North Line Street, said a zoning change would increase traffic on Line Street, especially at Fifth Street and Fourth Street.
"I don’t believe there's adequate parking in the plan as it was described. Very few residents have only two cars. As time goes on, you find you need three cars. Where those cars going to go?" he said. "They will be parking on the street or, I know this is not kosher to say, they will be parking in that church lot."
DelPinto said the residents who live there now have made a moral and ethical commitment to the borough to maintain a Class A Residential area.
"Now you want to change it on us," DelPinto said.
Kathleen Houdeshell, of Pacific Avenue, was concerned about the traffic.
"If you are adding townhomes, that's adding at least 40-some more cars," she said.
Her husband, Jeremy, said Canavan was only there to make money.
"He wants you to downgrade your standards. He wants you to take it from A to B," Houdeshell said. "Just leave it A. Make them build houses there. You can make a couple hundred thousand dollars on homes than millions on townhomes and twins. We don’t want rowhomes right beside us to be honest with you."
West Main Consignment owner Janice Tindall, who resides on East Fifth Street, said the townhomes would be too congested.
"For my age group, they are way too steep," she said. "Please don't market it to me. You're saying people want to downsize. I was in the Cannon houses. They are too steep."
Harold Schoonover, of East Sixth Street, said the zoning change and high denisty housing would change the character of the neighborhood.
"I would think that rezoning one or two small parcels amounts to spot zoning as opposed to conforming the overall zoning plan, which has been longstanding in the borough. There is open ground in the borough where high-density housing is allowed and this kind of developent can take place," he said. "It will set a precedent for further erosion of the existing zoning plan."
Love said it seemed council was intent on making Lansdale even denser.
"I cant understand the value of that," Love said. "You approved and built Cannon Square, and now it sounds like you are very much behind this new development. I'm wondering where you are going to go from there?"
Council Vice President Dan Dunigan said twins would already be allowable on the parcel as it is now.
He said WB Homes can make the same profit on a lesser amount of homes, but it's not the best use.
"There has to be enough profit in it to take the risk. If he doesn’t sell a damn one of them, everybody here who was against it isn’t going to come bail out WB Homes," Dunigan said. "He's going to take a risk. So those guys have to make a financial decision: they have to decide how can we best develop this parcel to our economic benefit to make taking the risk worth it?"
Dunigan said Lansdale has urban density all over the place. At 7,000 people per square mile, the borough is seven times what it takes to be called a city.
"I think it's another great project from a very reputable builder," he said. "All things taken into consideration, we can stand still and let deveopment go past us, or we can take advantage of the assets we have."
Sobel said he too is a resident of that area and the development does have an impact on himself.
"Believe me, I'm going to think long and hard before any decision that I'm going to make as a council representative on this," he said.
He said the property has been in disrepair. If the borough were to purchase it as a park, the cleanup would be very expensive.
Clemente directly asked Canavan if WB Homes and Prospect Acquisitions would sell the property to the borough for open space. Canavan said the company goes into this to build houses, not sell open space.
"Mr. Sobel says he doesn’t know what could be on the property. Unfortunately, I do and I'm not going to disclose that tonight, but there will be cleanup costs associated with this site from a demolition standpoint and some other environmental concerns," Canavan said. "This is not for sale for your use. The price tag you are looking at is not something you would buy for open space."
Clemente also asked Lansdale Police Chief Robert McDyre if there could be solutions or relief for the residents in the neighborhood should traffic become a problem. McDyre said a traffic study could be done before and after development.
Clemente also asked parks director Carl Saldutti for his opinion on the park situation. Saldutti said there are 20 sites that make up Lansdale's park system and that the borough meets all standards for open space based on its size.
Any additional park space would call for additional manpower to maintain it on a daily basis, he said.
Resident Mike Riccio said the borough isn't as dense as it was 40 years ago. He said the borough meets a proper ratio of density to open space.
"What do you want your town to be? When you take a project like Cannon Square, they put homes in there $250,000, $280,000. It's increased the value of everybody else's property around them. It's increased the tax base, increased the electric revenue, and all those things helped decrease our taxes," Riccio said. "If we want Lansdale to be what it was, then stay where we are. If we want to revitalize, then we are doing the right thing."
Councilman Steve Malagari said he is very familiar with the site, as he grew up on Fourth Street. While the site is a relic of the past of the borough, something must be done to it.
"At this point, this parcel needs to grow up," Malagari said. "I think it needs to be developed. I'm for this type of development."
Councilwoman Mary Fuller said she respected neighbors coming out and voicing their opinions on their hometown.
She said she too lives in the neighborhood and she is excited for this development.
"I'm a proud dweller in a rowhome, and I hope this helps my rowhome be elevated and increase the neighborhood as a whole," she said. "It's a nice upgrade to a parcel of land and it couldn't be used in a better way. I think it will be an added benefit that we will all be thankful for too."
Councilman Jack Hansen said he has been with this project since it was proposed and paid attention to the opinions of the planning commission and Montgomery County Planning Commission.
"When I make a decision here, I'm doing it for you. I may not agree with all that was said, but this project is better for you when it's completed," he said. "I hope you get behind it."