Builder out­lines plans to de­velop 94-acre Piszek tract

The Ambler Gazette - - POLICEREPORTS - By Linda Finarelli

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.

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