Ridge Farm meets more re­sis­tance

Res­i­dents con­tinue to fight 780-unit project; plan­ners ta­ble ap­proval amid traf­fic con­cerns

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Sarah M. Wo­j­cik

The de­vel­oper pitch­ing the un­pop­u­lar 780-unit Ridge Farm project in South White­hall Town­ship on Mon­day night out­lined a plan for up to $12 mil­lion in traf­fic im­prove­ments near the mas­sive de­vel­op­ment, but that wasn’t enough for the town­ship Plan­ning Com­mis­sion.

The Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, to the de­light of the well over 100 res­i­dents at Spring­house Mid­dle School, unan­i­mously tabled a vote on whether to rec­om­mend the project for con­di­tional use ap­proval.

In­stead, the board es­tab­lished ex­ten­sions for Kay Builders to re­turn with more traf­fic-re­lated in­for­ma­tion. The project con­sists of about 60% apartments, 20% sin­gle-fam­ily homes and

an­other 20% twin or du­plex homes as well as com­mer­cial space and land for pas­sive and ac­tive recre­ation.

A ma­jor “stum­bling block,” ac­cord­ing to com­mis­sion Chair­man Alan Tope, was the de­vel­oper’s fail­ure to sub­mit the full traf­fic im­pact study be­fore the hear­ing. PennDOT, which rec­om­mended the traf­fic im­prove­ments, has the re­port and Rob Hoff­man, traf­fic en­gi­neer with Traf­fic Plan­ning and De­sign Inc. in Beth­le­hem, said the study was en route to South White­hall staff.

“I get that they have it, but PennDOT is not con­cerned about Huck­le­berry Road be­cause it’s a town­ship road,” Com­mis­sioner mem­ber Brian Hite said in ref­er­ence to the im­pact study. “I’m re­ally strug­gling with how to move for­ward on this.”

The au­di­ence pro­vided some un­so­licited ad­vice.

“Don’t!” many cried out in uni­son.

The Plan­ning Com­mis­sion wants the full traf­fic im­pact study and more in­for­ma­tion about how traf­fic pat­terns and con­ges­tion would af­fect Huck­le­berry Road — east and west of the pro­posed de­vel­op­ment. That road was not within the scope of the PennDOT-man­dated study, but nearly ev­ery one of roughly 20 res­i­dents who spoke ex­pressed con­cerns about how the hilly, two-lane road would fare with ac­cess points to the mas­sive de­vel­op­ment.

The traf­fic im­prove­ments out­lined by Hoff­man stud­ied 27 in­ter­sec­tions and took a year and a half to com­plete. The im­prove­ments, which would be paid for by Kay Builders, in­clude widen­ing Wal­bert Av­enue and North Cedar Crest Boule­vard near the de­vel­op­ment. Ded­i­cated turn­ing lanes at those in­ter­sec­tions would ease al­ready trou­ble­some con­ges­tion.

Traf­fic lights would be in­stalled at Of­fice Cen­ter Road and North Cedar Crest Boule­vard, where an ac­cess point would be added across from Of­fice Cen­ter Road. An­other traf­fic light would be in­stalled at Huck­le­berry and North Cedar Crest Boule­vard. At other ac­cess ar­eas, left-turn restrictio­ns would be used, though res­i­dents were skep­ti­cal that driv­ers would fol­low the rules.

Hoff­man, in the busi­ness for two decades, said the Ridge Farm traf­fic study was the most com­pre­hen­sive with which he’s ever been in­volved. He said PennDOT scru­ti­nized the area within the scope, but res­i­dents, and ul­ti­mately the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, didn’t be­lieve that scope was suf­fi­cient.

The widened roads would ta­per back to orig­i­nal two lanes just be­yond the de­vel­op­ment’s bound­aries, irk­ing res­i­dents. Natalie St. Hill, a 17-year-old Park­land High School stu­dent, said the idea of rush hour traf­fic nar­row­ing to a sin­gle lane on a steep hill headed to the high school made her worry about safety.

Plan­ners will have 30 days from the sub­mis­sion of the traf­fic-re­lated ma­te­ri­als to sched­ule and con­duct a hear­ing with Kay Builders. The town­ship com­mis­sion­ers have 60 days from that sub­mis­sion to do the same.

Plan­ners can only pro­vide rec­om­men­da­tions to com­mis­sion­ers on whether to grant con­di­tional use ap­proval. The board then votes on whether the project is in com­pli­ance with the town­ship or­di­nance for the kind of project that would be a good fit for the tra­di­tional neigh­bor­hood de­vel­op­ment, or TND, over­lay in the area. All of this is sep­a­rate and pre­cedes the even­tual land de­vel­op­ment phase.

South White­hall’s TND pro­vided the frame­work that would al­low for pro­jects like Ridge Farm, cre­at­ing flex­i­bil­ity with mixed-use zon­ing and den­si­ties that can cre­ate more walk­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties — a de­sign that has gar­nered in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity from plan­ners and res­i­dents around the coun­try.

But since it was pro­posed, the Ridge Farm project’s un­usual size has in­vited op­po­si­tion. Res­i­dents on Mon­day wor­ried about bal­loon­ing en­roll­ment at the Park­land School District and higher taxes to fol­low.

“I have noth­ing against the de­vel­op­ment, but this is too much for this area — pe­riod,” said res­i­dent Dave To­ma­sic.

Jim Pre­ston, the at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing Kay Builders, ac­knowl­edged the project’s un­pop­u­lar­ity, but told the com­mis­sion its ob was not to “pla­cate the un-pla­cat­able.” Pre­ston said the project met the stan­dards set forth in the or­di­nance. He bris­tled at the im­pli­ca­tion that Kay Builders was seek­ing to game the sys­tem to use ev­ery last inch of space for hous­ing.

“That recipe you’re look­ing at, that comes out of your zon­ing or­di­nance,” Pre­ston told the au­di­ence. “We were just fol­low­ing in­struc­tions.”

His re­marks re­ceived push­back. One de­trac­tor was granted a mo­ment to com­ment.

“Would the law dic­tate an apart­ment in­crease?” asked Ge­orge Noga, re­fer­ring to the plan’s in­crease in apart­ment units on the site. “Was it the zon­ing laws that told you that you had to do this? That’s a load of baloney.”

The 139-acre project along North Cedar Crest Boule­vard and Wal­bert Av­enue is the first por­tion of Kay Builders’ ul­ti­mate plan for the land. Plans for the rest of the to­tal tract, which would be con­cen­trated to the west of North Cedar Crest, have not for­mally been sub­mit­ted and are not un­der con­sid­er­a­tion. But res­i­dents fre­quently bring up that Kay Builders has in­di­cated it plans to do with the land.

The most re­cent pro­posal calls for 68 sin­gle-dwelling homes, 88 age-re­stricted homes, 74 two-unit dwellings, 82 twounit, age-re­stricted dwellings, a club­house and 308 apart­ment units spread over 11 apart­ment build­ings. In ad­di­tion, the tract would also in­clude two three­story and two four-story mixed use build­ings with 27,200 square feet of com­mer­cial and restau­rant space on the first floor and 100 apartments above.

There are also plans for two restau­rants, a med­i­cal of­fice and a com­mu­nity club­house. An­other 44 acres of space will be kept as open space, 16 acres of it for ac­tive recre­ation.

“This isn’t an ‘ex­ist­ing de­vel­op­ment’ in our com­mu­nity,” said res­i­dent Lee Solt. “We have noth­ing like this in South White­hall.”

SARAH M. WO­J­CIK/THE MORN­ING CALL

Jim Pre­ston, an at­tor­ney for Kay Builders, an­swers ques­tions Mon­day about Ridge Farm, a mas­sive 780-unit mixed-use de­vel­op­ment pro­posed for South White­hall.

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