Builder outlines plans to develop 94-acre Piszek tract
The original developer backed out and the county rescinded an open space grant, but a local builder is planning to go ahead and develop the Piszek tract that lies in both Upper Dublin and Springfield townships.
Sal Paone Jr. was at the Upper Dublin Township Environmental Protection Advisory Board meeting Tuesday night to outline the Spring House-based builder’s plan for the approximately 94-acre parcel owned by the estate of the late Edward J. Piszek, a founder of Mrs. Paul’s Kitchens. Paone wants to create a three-lot subdivision, with two areas to be developed and the third the open space parcel. The builder currently has an agreement of sale on the developable portions of the tract divided by Pennsylvania Avenue.
Of the 94.4-acre parcel, 64 acres were to be dedicated as open space, with the Montgomery County Land Trust provid- ing an $850,000 grant for about 34 of those acres, according to Frank Keenen, a Piszek family employee who manages land holdings for the estate.
The Piszek grant was among 16 approved by the county’s previous administration, but the current administration put those projects on hold to evaluate while it “put in place contracts in order to protect taxpayer dollars,” county Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro said in an interview Tuesday. “Every other county grant program requires a contract,” but the open space program, which began in 1993, never had contracts in place, he said.
A grand jury had referenced a lack of controls in the county’s open space program and when the current administration took over, “the lack of contracts was unacceptable to us,” Shapiro said.
Under a new $17.2 million, five-year open space plan approved by the commissioners this month, the open space grant for the Piszek property was rescinded, along with three in Perkiomen, where that township’s supervisors had voted to turn down the county open space grants. The plan, if carried through as approved, would leave $3,000 in open space funds at the end of the five years.
Shapiro said the Piszek grant was rescinded because “the agreement of sale had expired and given that, the county staff had not recommended going forward with the grant.” He said he told Piszek’s daughter, Helen Nelson, who was at the commissioners’ meeting, that the estate could continue to work with the county.
“As time goes on, budgets change,” Shapiro said, adding that “the county is not the sole source of funding” for the preservation of open space.
Under a land development plan submitted by a prior developer that was approved by both townships, 80 homes were to be built on the Piszek parcel — 49 townhouses in Springfield, 24 carriage homes and seven estate homes in Upper Dublin — with the bulk of the land being put aside as open space.
Paone plans to develop the property under Upper Dublin’s open space preservation overlay district, which would allow for 44 homes on the Upper Dublin side, in addition to the 49 townhouses on the Springfield portion.
The builder has spoken with Upper Dublin and Springfield staff and will “make sure the open space remains as such,” Paone said.
The Piszeks would be responsible for finding an overseer for the land designated as open space, but that portion of the tract would be taken into account in determining the density permitted on the developable portions of the parcel under the overlay, he said. Options for open space funding other than the county, he said, include the township, a private conservation organization and a homeowners association.
Asked by EPAB member Peter Jacobson if there was a chance of less open space being preserved if Paone develops the land, Paone responded, “absolutely not.”
One reason the plan approved was not built was that it was “an extremely expensive plan,” Paone said, in addition to the downturn in the economy.
“There are other configurations possible under the ordinance … ones more environmentally friendly and more marketable in this market,” he said.
While declining to present an exact plan, Paone indicated the carriage homes would not be built, and the bulk of the homes would be clustered in one location on the Upper Dublin side, with likely no change in plans on the Springfield side.
The Piszek estate needs to be closed, he said, and in order to close it they need to subdivide the property. With that being the first step in going forward with plans for the tract, Paone said, he was “confident there are some solutions” to seeing that the open space is funded and preserved.