The Paoli Business & Professional Association held a public meeting last night on the Paoli Transportation Center. As both a PBPA Board member, small business owner and interested resident; I had wanted to attend this preliminary public meeting. Due to a personal schedule conflict (last night was the monthly Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust board meeting) I was unable to attend. However, my friend and Paoli resident Tim Lander attended the Paoli Transportation Center meeting and very generously offered his summary for Community Matters. Thank you Tim for your detailed notes! I would encourage others who attended to weigh in with their personal thoughts on the meeting and the project.
Paoli Rail Yard Update – Delaware Valley Friends School, April 7, 2010
Panel: Marie Thibault, President , Paoli Business and Professional Association; State Rep. Paul Drucker; Bob O’Leary, Tredyffrin Township Planning Commission and Paoli Rail Yard Task Force; Peter Monaghan and Brad Tate, Strategic Realty Investments (SRI)
Also in attendance were township supervisors JD DiBuonaventuro of Tredyffrin and Norman McQueen of Willistown. Total audience numbered about 40.
After opening remarks by Marie, Rep. Drucker discussed the role of the state and federal government in funding the project. Bob provided a brief history of the site as it transformed from an active rail yard, to a federal superfund site in the 1980s, to a remediated brownfield in the ‘90s. Peter gave an overview of SRI, highlighted several local projects completed by the firm, and took questions from the audience. He emphasized that the chance to redevelop twenty acres in an existing town center is extremely rare, and he views this as a great opportunity to build something very special for the community.
Project Information: After Philadelphia, the Paoli station is the busiest in the state, with heavy SEPTA and Amtrak usage. That makes this one of the highest-profile transportation projects in Pennsylvania. At present, there is nothing official to share with the public or the township planning bodies; as formal plans are developed the review process will be open to public participation. SRI hopes to produce a concept plan later in 2010. Redevelopment of the existing train station property on the east side of North Valley Rd. will be a separate project; SRI’s plans will only address the property west of North Valley Rd.
Funding: Tredyffrin and Willistown Townships are forming a joint municipal authority to coordinate the various sources of public funding for the project. SEPT A has been planning to fund the parking garage, but the recent decision by the federal government to deny the state’s bid to toll I-80 will likely delay SEPTA’s ability to contribute. Amtrak is not expected to provide any funding; only the land. It is expected that the state will need to raise its debt limit to float bonds for transportation funding to be used for this project and others. A special session of the state legislature may be called this summer to deal with transportation funding. Federal funding is subject to the whims of whichever politicians are in office at the time, making it hard to predict what gets funded. Local funding typically covers about 10%, meaning that Tredyffrin and Willistown would jointly need to fund about $10 million of the total $100 million in projected public contribution. Private funding would be used for the bulk of the project.
Traffic: There is currently parking for about 500 cars. The new parking garage is expected to hold about 800. Residents in attendance voiced concerns about the additional traffic the redevelopment would bring and reinforced the need for significant road improvements. It was also emphasized that E. and W. Central are residential neighborhoods and should not be expected to bear increased commuter traffic. Key to any traffic relief is the widening of the Rt. 252 underpass at Rt.30, for which a study is underway. Road improvements will be funded by state and federal sources. It will be up to all of the participating parties to coordinate the road improvements with the rail yard redevelopment; they are essentially separate projects.
The word “premature” was used freely during the evening, and it was emphasized that the meeting was in response to a request by the Paoli Business and Professional Association, not as a formal step in the planning process. More formal public meetings will be held once there is more concrete information to share. A quote from Peter regarding public input: “Communication and collaboration are keys to any successful development.” Bob O’Leary commented that we are very fortunate to have a local developer managing this project; someone with a stake in the community .
References: The Tredyffrin Township website contains numerous documents related to the Rail Yard development. During the presentation it was noted that the Master Plan developed in 2001 is essentially obsolete, although SRI may re-use some aspects of it.
Strategic Realty Investments: http://www.strategic-realty.com/1