Devon Yard apartment building, parking garage scotched
DEVON >> Several of the residents who spoke at the Easttown Township Planning Commission meeting recently thanked Urban Outfitters for listening to their concerns and altering plans for the new Devon Yard to be built at the site of the former Waterloo Gardens on Lancaster Avenue.
The planning commission is considering a new zoning overlay district tailored to allow the project to go forward. Previously, residents packed township meetings to voice their opposition to a four-story apartment building and a parking garage. Those elements are no longer in the plans.
David Ziel, chief development officer for Urban Outfitters, said his company is now the sole
applicant for the project that, if approved, would bring a 31,289-squarefoot Anthropologie store, a 3,477-square-foot Terrain store, a Terrain café, a 1,630-square-foot pizzeria and adjoining Amis restaurant at 3,000 square feet. In addition, a 3,839-sqaure-foot event space is envisioned for weddings, parties, bar mitzvahs, or other gatherings.
These stores and restaurants would cluster around a central courtyard with parking around the exterior. Although two adjoining properties, now a doctor’s office and a house, would be included in the zoning overlay, those properties are not part of the Urban Outfitters shopping center. One of those parcels might be developed into townhouses, officials said.
Ironically, though the neighbors were pleased with this latest version of the Devon Yard plan, some members of the planning commission expressed frustration that the apartment building is no longer in the offing.
“I have no issue with the ordinance as it is,” said Michael Cappelletti. “… I’m sorry they had to cave to the bully pulpit. That’s the way things are. I’m sad there aren’t going to be residents there. That irks me a little bit. The comprehensive plan calls for multi-family development here . ... Again it’s a commercial property. It’s going to be what it is. This is a developer who is trying to do what’s best for the township . ... I think they’ve done a great job.”
Mary Hashemi said the overlay “does provide for the pedestrian scale that I would like to see in the township,” and is “a step in the right direction.” However, “It would have been good to have the multi-family, denser housing.”
Joseph Kohn, a lawyer who represents some residents and is a nearby resident himself, said, “We very much appreciate the changes the developer made.” However, Kohn said he does not see why the doctor’s office and residential property should be included in the new zoning overlay since those owners’ sites are not a part of the development.
“We oppose changes that would allow townhouses on one R-3 lot in Devon,” he said. He also requested that more green space be included on the east side of Devon Boulevard and that exiting trees be kept. And, he said, the current residents of Devon Boulevard, Berkeley Road and Dorset Road comprise the town center the planning commission wants and will walk to this new shopping and eating venue.
Ziel said “to Joe Kohn’s point, we’re looking to how we get a little bit greener.” While a parking deck is not planned, if it were later needed it would be on the eastern section abutting the Devon Horse Show grounds.
Another resident, Avis Yuni, said to the planners, “I know you wanted more people living in this area. I am one of many who don’t.” She also opposed the two other property owners piggybacking onto the zoning overlay.
“What I would like to urge this panel to do is please take those properties out of there,” said Yunis. “If, later on, those folks have a reason they can come back and you can expand it. … For now set up the ordinance only within the unified development. … We are already having a problem in this township with lots of new construction by-right.” She asked why those adjacent sites were being included in the overlay.
Kristin Camp, solicitor for the planning commission, said those owners came to the township with their lawyers and asked to be included. Also, townhouses cannot be built on Urban’s site since it is zoned for commercial use, she said.
“My question is why are we allowing it? If these folks haven’t given us concrete plans for the public to respond to. … Why would you ever put them in there just because they asked for
it? The problem we’re having in this township, there are already so many areas, Surrey Services, Fritz’s … By-right we’re getting all of these townhouses.”
Camp told her that the comprehensive plan calls for a town center in the Waterloo Gardens area.
Liz Ward, another resident, also thanked Ziel for the changes to the plan and said the residents will walk there and support it. But she questioned the planning commission’s adherence to a comprehensive plan that dates to 2001 and is undergoing revision now.
Brian Penny, a resident and lawyer, suggested that the option for townhouses be removed from the zoning overlay.
“I was surprised to hear the neighbors be chastised,” Penny said, objecting to Cappelletti’s use of the term “bully pulpit.”
“Your disdain for the neighbors came through pretty clear,” Penny told Cappelletti.
Mark Stanish, planning commission chairman, said there is a planning concept at play that calls for an area of apartments or townhouses to serve as a buffer between a commercial area and single-family houses.
“You’re right in the middle of a new comprehensive plan,” said Penny, who grew up on the east end of Long Island, New York, where zoning laws are strictly enforced to protect its character. That part of Long Island is “an area that steadfastly maintained its country atmosphere (with) charming hamlets, similar to this part of the Main Line.”
Joan S. Bergquist, another resident, also liked the changes to the plan but suggested the developer use variances rather than a zoning overlay to accomplish his goals.
Stanish told her that variances require a decision by the Zoning Hearing Board that there is a hardship.
Louis Colagreco, the lawyer for Urban, said they did consider the option of requesting variances but did not think they could meet the “strict legal standards” needed. Also, it would set a precedent for the township that other developers would cite.
A plan of the proposed Devon Yard project.