Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Tredyffrin Twp Planning Commission agenda — Chesterbrook Shopping Center project & Plans for 250-unit multifamily building in Paoli!

The upcoming Planning Commission meeting on Thursday has a couple of major township redevelopment projects on the agenda for discussion – Chesterbrook Shopping Center and 250 unit multi-family building with structured parking in Paoli.

The applicant for the Chesterbrook Shopping Center project, 500 Chesterbrook Boulevard, LP is back in front of the Planning Commissioners regarding the proposed text amendments to the Town Center District (TCD). The proposed TCD changes included amending the standard for building height, sidewalks, parking, building façade and the steep slope regulation, to differentiate for manmade steep slopes. The Planning Commission originally approved the TCD zoning changes on November 21 and sent it to the Board of Supervisors for review at their December 16 meeting. However, after discussion and community input, the supervisors sent the proposed TCD text amendments back to the PC for further work that will happen at Thursday’s meeting.

One of the sticking points in the proposed zoning changes is in regards to steep slopes; the current TCD ordinance differentiates between natural and manmade slopes but makes no distinction from a regulatory standpoint – both have the same requirements. It is the suggestion of the applicant that if the slope is manmade because of a prior development (which is the case at the Chesterbrook Shopping Center), it should not need to be preserved – especially when considering that much of the development affected by this will be redevelopment. For those that don’t know, the backside of Chesterbrook Shopping Center (Wilson Farm Park side) is multi-story; the slope created as part of the original development plan when the center was constructed.

Ever since Genuardi’s closed 3-1/2 years ago, the center has continued its spiral downward. Unlike the retail stores that may close along Rt. 252 or Lancaster Avenue, the Chesterbrook Shopping Center is the core of Chesterbrook – it’s their town center. The redevelopment of the Chesterbrook Shopping Center is very overdue – this project is going to be a win-win for the neighboring residents, the corporate employees working in Chesterbrook and other township residents, who like I drive through the area regularly. I hope that the 500 Chesterbrook Boulevard, LP developer can successfully maneuverer any remaining obstacles regarding the text amendment zoning changes and this exciting project can move forward!

I wish I could say that I was as positive about the proposed Paoli redevelopment project as I am about the Chesterbrook Shopping Center. The owner of Station Square (a group of dated office buildings at the corner of East Central and N. Valley Road), the Palmer Group is proposing a 250-unit multifamily building with structured parking plan at this site adjacent to the Paoli Train Station. Having just praised the plans for the Chesterbrook Shopping Center, my objection to the Station Square project has nothing to do with not supporting redevelopment.

There are so many issues surrounding the proposed Station Square project, it’s hard to know where to start. First off, for anyone that travels on North Valley Road or Central Avenue during either morning or afternoon rush hours, you know how much traffic already exists in this area of the township. Certainly, the employees working in the existing Station Square office buildings contribute to the traffic although a certain number probably use the convenient adjacent public transportation. However, any additional traffic from the Station Square office workers is Monday-Friday, 9 – 5 type of traffic. However, the addition of a 250 unit multifamily building in this location and the traffic is compounded – and it’s 24/7 traffic.

The residents of Valley Hills already face major morning and afternoon traffic challenges maneuvering from their community onto E. Central and N. Valley roads – I cannot imagine how the local roads will handle the traffic created by an additional 250 families or the quality of life effect on the neighbors.

I am certain that an argument to support this proposed project is that it is part of of the Paoli Transit Center and Paoli redevelopment vision. However, I have problems with the density of the development and the additional traffic issues such a project will cause. One of the arguments regularly used by residents opposing the Wayne Glen development project is the potential additional students into the T/E School District. The targeted audience for the proposed Wayne Glen townhouses and carriage homes and the new Chesterbrook townhouses is the 55+ buyer but that has not kept that argument from being made. However, my guess is the planned 250-unit multifamily building in Paoli is going to appeal to families with children and will provide a lower cost way to enjoy the benefits of the T/E schools. As an aside, it is clear from attending school board meetings that many of our schools are currently operating at near capacity and this proposed Station Square multifamily building could have a dramatic effect on the school district enrollment.

According to the Planning Commission agenda, the developer will provide a sketch plan of the Station Square project. This is the first opportunity for residents to hear about the concept and see the plans – I look forward to hearing how the developer plans to resolve the additional traffic issues and density concerns.

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  1. Pattye,

    How is the traffic created by the 250 unit proposal at Station Square much different than the PTC’s 3,000+ new cars worth of traffic every day?

    I don’t get how you can so adamantly support 3,000+ new cars worth of traffic while adamantly opposing traffic from the other.

    Or do you fear that the development of Station Square could harm the PTC project as that area is slated to be changed significantly under the proposed PTC?

    Could this also be the developer trying to increase the value of their land in case PTC condemnation occurs on any of it’s space?

    1. Application details from township:

      Sketch Plan Application to construct a 250 unit multifamily building with structured parking which would require both a map change to Transit Center District and certain text amendments (parcels 43-9L-213, 43-9L-214, 43-9M-92.1)

      Density — current zoning does not permit 250-unit, multifamily building. Any additional cars at Paoli Transit Center (Is that 3,000+ ‘new cars’ that you site documented?) will not affect the enrollment of students in the T/E School District. A 250-unit apartment building in Paoli will.

      1. Pattye,

        Yes it’s in the PTC proposal. Look at all the new parking spots in the 5 story garage. Those spots aren’t there to be empty. Other SEPTA comments also outline that they EXPECT to draw traffic from Exton, Malvern, Downingtown, etc.

  2. When Devon Strafford Apartments were built behind what was once the Main Line Drive In, it was contemplated for young singles and entry level families. The result was the construction of Beaumont Elementary school tohandle the overflow from the explosive population growth of Devon Elementary attendance area.

    I think FTW is right — this is just a plan to create a higher market value if the land is “taken” for the PTC project.

  3. There were many important concerns expressed at the Planning Commission meeting last night. I’d like to comment on just one aspect: the anti-development tax structure.

    Let’s just use round numbers and suppose that one fifth of our school property taxes were swapped out for a 1% residential EIT. ($5bn assessed value, 2% property tax, $2bn household income). Also assume the townships do not appropriate half the EIT.

    Let’s also suppose that a 150 unit (250 won’t be allowed!) apartment building were valued at $25 million (after many, many non-professional assumptions about average rent, NOI, cap rate) and so assessed at $15 million (Chester County CLR = 60%). Also assume a household income of $75,000 per unit, $11 million total.

    (The $15 million assessment may be high. As one frame of reference, Home Properties of Devon is assessed at $22 million – 4x the number of units but a lower class of property than proposed.)

    1% EIT: $110,000
    0.4% Property Tax: $60,000

    With the 1.6% balance of the property tax ($240,000), the EIT would cover the cost of 20 students.

    Food for thought? Doubtless many experts can weigh in on my assumptions and arithmetic.

  4. Ray,
    I was with you until this statement:
    “With the 1.6% balance of the property tax ($240,000), the EIT would cover the cost of 20 students.”
    Help me understand.

    1. Sorry, Keith, not to be clear. My premise was to replace one fifth of the property tax with an EIT. So, to complete the calculation of the effect of the development, I needed to add the four fifths of the property tax that would remain. So that would bring the total tax from the development to $350,000, which I divided by an annual cost to educate a student of around $17,500 to get to the 20 students covered by the development. Of course one of many refinements to this simple view would be to net out the property tax being paid by the site as currently assessed (at ~$5.5 million).

      1. OK, Ray, I understand the math now.
        Help me understand your thoughts on , ” the anti-development tax structure”. Are you saying that a blended RE tax/EIT would be more development friendly because there are more tax dollars extracted per new home/apartment to cover the additional students?

        1. So what is happening now is that the school district comes out against any residential development, and especially the relatively dense proposals we are seeing these days, because the property taxes don’t come close to covering the cost to educate the number of students that experience has shown to come from these type of developments. And that’s a majority component of any proposals we have seen recently, since Tredyffrin is over-supplied with offices (albeit aging) and retail. The recently approved assisted living facility on Lancaster Road is one exception that generates taxes and no students. The Township authorities generally look favorably on any kind of (well-planned) development, which of course can mean that the character of the township might evolve.

          An EIT would ease the school district pain from these types of developments because, as you say, there would be more tax dollars generated than from the property tax alone. An EIT would also rise as the overall district income increased, while our overall property tax base is forecast to be flat – which would be especially true if community forces mobilized against development.

          So a longer version of “anti-development tax structure” would be “a tax structure that influences the community to oppose the types of development for which there is currently a demand”.

          Although such a base shift might be helpful at the margin, a looming issue in TE is that we are within 5% of the 2500 students that the Facilities Committee claims that our five elementary schools can practically accommodate. Two new classrooms planned for next year might stretch the limit some. A new $25+ million building alone might cost $1.5 million a year in 30 year bond repayments and that’s a 1+% increase in annual revenue before you even staff the school.

        2. I’m not sure a 1% EIT replacing one-fifth of the RE tax would be more favorable to the school district when developments are proposed.
          Let’s use your example.
          Under the current taxing structure each apartment is assessed at $100K and would bring the District $2K per year in RE taxes.
          Under the 1% EIT taxing structure, the RE tax would be $1.6K and the 1% EIT on a $75K salary would bring in $750 for a total of $2.35K per apartment.
          I’m not sure the difference between $2K and $2.35K is significant and that’s with favorable assumptions.
          The big variables are the earned income of the tenants and the action of the township. If the township takes half, the 1% EIT is a net loss compared to the current taxing structure. Also, think of a retired couple moving into the apartment with zero earned income (pensions and SS don’t count toward earned income). In that case the EIT brings in less revenue to the District.
          Has the District considered modular classrooms? I consider them an integral part of any expansion plan. Take a look at the growth in student population. I’m guessing TE might have 60 new students each year requiring one new classroom at the elementary level, the middle school level and the high school level. It doesn’t make sense to build a new 25 classroom elementary school and leave 24 of those classrooms unoccupied in the 1st year, 23 in the 2nd year and so on.

  5. Always remember — no one who has kids in schools are truly tax PAYERS. They are members of the tax public, and are entitled to services, but anyone who has any child in a school is likely not covering the cost of a single child unless they own a massive office building. TE properties on the very high end rarely (read: never) are assessed at market value even under re-assessment.
    I did a study once and showed that the school district could save tax dollars by buying land and preventing development. A member of the board at the time was quick to remind us all that we educate — the townships plan. I pointed out that the transfer tax to the township (T) was twice what it was to the schools, and the township really incurred little if any “per capita” costs like the cost of a single additional child.
    Yes — a single child does not always trigger hires, but it can.

  6. Shouldn’t developments (for-profit) be taxed at a higher percentage than the typical single-family residential property? Maybe they are?

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