Stand at the rear of 311 W. Main Street and and look out toward the tracks.
Now, imagine a six-story tall building – Century Plaza at Green Street and Main is five-stories tall – with 30,000-square-feet of retail space on the ground floor fronting Madison Avenue.
The remaining floors above it – all condos. About 200 of them.
Behind this building, along the tracks, will be a parking garage. The parking garage will be the spot where residents of these condos will park, as well as commuters and shoppers.
There will be about 430 spaces, in total, in the garage. Madison Parking Lot now has 215 spots.
Now, stand behind Molly Maguire’s, at the corner of Wood Street and Madison, and look toward the tracks.
Right across the street will be a piazza, with retail stores surrounding it. To the left of Wood Street, behind , will be more residential condos.
Brace yourself – the area of Lansdale Beer Fest is proposed to be the site of 54 townhomes. A new one-way road – where the dirt road currently exists leading up to the Beer Fest – will be paved as a thoroughfare to these townhomes.
These were the concepts presented Wednesday night at a public presentation of the concept plan at the meeting of the Lansdale Parking Authority.
The developer, BPG Properties, has developed and owns some residential and commercial properties in the area you may be familiar with – the old Visteon plant in Worcester; ; Madison at Montgomery on Elroy Road in Hatfield, down the street from Pennfield Middle School; Madison at Hunt Club in Lower Gwynedd; the New Britain Village Square at County Line Road and DeKalb Pike; 1001 Continental Drive in King of Prussia; and the Amtrak 30th Street Station parking garage in Philadelphia.
'The Right Fit for Lansdale'
Here’s the plan: Start the project in mid- to late-July 2012, with a construction timespan of 18 to 24 months.
“This project is near and dear to our hearts because it is in our backyard,” said George Haines, vice president of BPG Properties. “We want a project we can be proud of and you can be proud of too.”
Lansdale Parking Authority solicitor Joe Clement said there would be no loss of parking during the project.
David Schoenhard, vice president of Wulff Architects in Philadelphia, said the project will take place in three phases due to the sheer size of the project.
The first phase will be split into three parts. The first part of phase one is the multi-tiered parking garage that will pick up all the existing parking on site and add parking necessary for residential units.
“What’s interesting is the way we organized the project. When you are on Madison and Main, and look back to the project, you won’t see the garage,” Schoenhard said. “It’s behind our building.”
The second part of phase one is the main building along Madison Avenue and Wood Street.
“It is a mixed-use building where there is retail on the ground floor and there’s multi-story residences above,” said Schoenhard.
“The part of the fun of that is in terms of how the building begins to step down, as it approaches the station area,” he said. “It begins to step down so it has scale and contextual relations that are so important to the community.”
The third part of phase one is the site aspects, including the piazza, streetscapes and stormwater management.
Phase Two is the ground-floor retail west of Wood Street, with the multi-story residences. This will be split into two parts, which includes site aspects.
Phase Three will be construction of 54 townhomes in the northwestern part of the site.
“Site aspects in the area include playgrounds and ballfields and open areas,” said Schoenhard. “We want a walk system that weaves and ties the project together from one end to the other end.”
All open space on the project would be open to the public.
Schoenhard said the project was created to “embrace the quality of the community and reinforce it.”
“We really want this to be a partnership,” he said. “This is coming from our dreams. Rather than coming up with a project that is a cookie cutter approach, we really have a design that really starts to fit in the community and support the community. It was literally created for Lansdale.
The concept has various aspects that, Schoenhard said, “weave throughout the entire design.”
The contextual design, he said, makes the project feel like it’s part of the community.
“We are aware of what’s across the street from it. We are aware of the train station and aware of the railroad tracks and the crossing is weird. We need to look at that,” he said. “We are aware that the intersection at Molly Maguire’s has vibrancy and that is wonderful in terms of how it is coming along. We want to support that.”
He said BPG and Wulff are aware of the renaissance with 311 W. Main St.
The project also takes into account transit-oriented development.
“This is a perfect project for that,” he said. “With SEPTA, and parking, and retail and residential, there’s a vibrant pedestrian quality to it.”
The goal is to support area businesses and encourage commuters to come into town and stay in town.
“One of our aspects is this walking loop: walk down Main Street, back up Madison and cross Wood. The loop is perfect for an after-dinner stroll.”
So, can Lansdale expect some popular chains to come into the retail spaces?
“The idea is not to cannibalize the existing businesses on Main Street,” said Haines. “I don’t want to kill their business; I want to complement it. There seems to be a need for more food and dining.”
He said Lansdale could see “an Iron Hill Brewery, a Panera Bread, a Saxby’s Coffee, White Dog Café.”
“We would hope to have retail in there once we deliver the space,” he said. “That’s why we phase the project.”
No Issue Here, Except Parking
Residents and business owners who attended Wednesday night’s meeting were in support of the concept.
Councilman Jack Hansen asked if there would be access to the train station planned with the project.
Lansdale Parking Authority Chairman Dan Dunigan said there is not in the current plan.
“I’m sure that will be part of the discussion. With any transit-oriented development structure, access to transit is a key component of it. Any time you talk about going under or over anyone’s rail lines, you are now involving another party,” he said. “That will add a level of complication. I’m sure these folks, with their working relationship with the folks at SEPTA, will explore that.”
Hansen also said there are 215 spots in the lot at present, down from 246 from before.
“With that, is it intended be some additional parking in the garage over what is there now, plus the new residential units?” Hansen said.
Dunigan said the borough does not have a parking problem at Madison Lot. He said the 215 number is the average utilization in the lot at present.
“We are not losing anything of what’s currently being used. It’s a balance point between what residential uses will be needed and approximately how many will be left for the use of borough residents under the auspice of the borough parking authority,” Dunigan said.
Wilson’s Hardware and Locksmiths owner Joe Flyzik asked if thought was given to existing business who will need to unload and load merchandise during construction.
“We have planned on several outreach sessions to the residents and business community,” said Haines. “We can’t appreciate the magnitude of it now, but if we sit down and get all the details, we will take them into account.”
Flyzik disagreed with the statement that there is not a parking problem in Madison Lot.
“You come down there any day, we get complaints from customers not being able to park,” he said.
Amy Cummings-Leight, director of The PEAK Center, agreed parking is the biggest problem and there is not enough parking in Madison Parking Lot. She wanted to know a timeframe before any construction begins, and where they propose to put parking during construction.
Clement said they cannot answer that yet.
“We’re talking months and potentially over a year. This has to go through the planning process. The borough wouldn’t want to do this in a rush,” Clement said. “We want to make sure we are able to address everybody’s concerns involved.”
He said no one is entirely sure where surface parking will be during construction.
“We will try to position them so that it gives people access to the downtown shops,” he said.
Wayne Snyder asked about the parking garage being expanded in the future that the train is continued north to Quakertown.
Haines said it always could be expanded.
“We have found in the past that the most cost-effective way to expand a parking garage is not going up, but going out,” he said. “The way it’s designed now, when it’s against the track and we have residential around it, it could be difficult. As we get into further design, we should take that into consideration.”
Clement said the answer is money.
“If someone wants to spend the money to do that, they’ll go up,” said Clement.
Chris Flyzik, owner of Wilson’s Hardware, asked if Lansdale will continue to own the lot.
Clement said the parking authority will sell the vast majority to the developer.
“On the good side, we will get tax revenue at some point,” Flyzik said.
Resident Steve Moyer asked if any thought was given to traffic in Lansdale.
“One of the ongoing projects related to the borough is the PCTI Project. One of the overall goals of that is to greatly improve the flow of traffic in and through the borough,” said Dunigan. “That will come into play.”
Councilwoman Mary Fuller asked if the design will be done to a specific demographic.
Haines said the apartment side will be a function of what they can build and what rent would be required to support the development. Because it is transportation-oriented and more urban, BPG has an idea of what demographic it will attract.
“There is a general desire for mixed-use TOD apartment product by ages mid-20s to 40s and beyond,” he said.
Councilman-elect Denton Burnell asked if the design incorporates 311 W. Main St. in the process.
Haines said not at all. Dunigan said the parking authority doesn’t control the parcel.
“They are aware of what the issues are. It will be one of those things to factor in as it goes along. It could become an integral part of the success of their property,” he said.
Joe Flyzik asked if there would be any consideration in blocking out the boxcars, graffiti and older trains that are sitting in the railyard. Dunigan said the current concept covers the visual concerns.
“All retail will on the Madison Street side,” Dunigan said.
Janice Tindall, owner of West Main Consignment, asked how many parking spots the borough will gain with the project.
“The structure is 430, as it’s proposed,” Dunigan said, “and additional ground-level parking of 50. So that is …”
“Not enough,” chimed in Tindall.
“If you do the math, there’s roughly 235 spaces there currently, and that would provide 480 spaces,” he said. “One of the keys of transit-oriented development is it tends to have a lower average need for parking. Typically, about one a unit.”
Tindall said the authority is giving BPG the land, and the borough is only getting 200 spots.
“There is a considerable value to each one of those spaces in a parking structure,” Dunigan said. “Conservatively estimated, a parking space in a parking structure runs roughly $15,000 to $25,000 a space to construct. We are not giving that property away. There is a considerable value coming back to the authority. It will generate tax revenue to the borough when the residents are there.”
He said the upkeep now is more expensive than the revenue generated from the parking.
“The Madison Lot to the borough is a net negative,” Dunigan said.
Tindall asked if there was a moratorium on renters; they won’t pay taxes because they are renting.
“Renters pay tax. It’s part of the check they send to the landlord, who then pays the tax,” he said. “Nobody escapes taxes.”
Council President Matt West encouraged BPG not to gloss over the connection to the train station from the project.
“There is a barrier to get to that station. If you are talking about redeveloping 200 residential units, and wanting to get those folks to the train station, under the umbrella of the TOD, you’ve got to make that connection better,” West said. “If it’s going to be a truly successful redevelopment, please, go after that.”
After the meeting, Joe Flyzik remarked that he had to digest the concept a bit, but he liked it so far.
“Anything we can do to help the downtown businesses develop and bring in new business and new development is good,” he said. “It’s quite a project.”