Apart­ment plan riles neigh­bors

Pro­posal for 402 units at Rts. 309-22 in­ter­sec­tion in­cites area residents

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

Da­mara Ritchey isn’t sur­prised that ParkView Inn, a ho­tel just out­side her quiet South White­hall Town­ship neighborho­od be­tween Route 309 and the Spring­house Mid­dle School, is be­ing pitched for re­de­vel­op­ment.

But the ex­pec­tant mother, who re­cently moved back to the Le­high Val­ley with her fam­ily to es­cape the chaos and con­ges­tion of South Jersey, doesn’t un­der­stand why de­vel­op­ers are seek­ing to put 402 apart­ments on the 23-acre tract.

“The big rea­son we moved from the Philly area was to get away from all of this,” Ritchey said Thurs­day in the home of friend and neigh­bor Kelly Harm. “It feels like it’s fol­lowed us here.”

The women are part of a core group of South White­hall residents rais­ing what they say are

ma­jor con­cerns about plans to trans­form the largely va­cant ho­tel at 1151 Bull­dog Drive into a dense clus­ter of apart­ment build­ings.

Prop­erty owner Nick Bizati and E&B Ho­tel Part­ner­ship LP will go be­fore the South White­hall Zon­ing Hear­ing Board on Wed­nes­day. The 7:30 p.m. meet­ing is be­ing held in the Spring­house Mid­dle School in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a large turnout, and po­lice are ex­pected to be in at­ten­dance fol­low­ing a plea from the chair­man of the town­ship com­mis­sion­ers.

The pre­lim­i­nary developmen­t plan sub­mit­ted with the zon­ing ap­peal calls for four, four-story apart­ment build­ings with 78 units each; six, three-story apart­ment build­ings with 24 units each; and 24, three-story “di­rect en­try” town­house-style apart­ments.

In ad­di­tion to the apart­ment build­ings, the prop­erty would in­clude a club­house, a main­te­nance garage and six garage build­ings for residents. The plan calls for 707 park­ing spa­ces, which is less than would nor­mally be re­quired for a mixed-use pro­posal in the high­way-com­mer­cial zon­ing district.

The de­vel­oper is seek­ing vari­ances to al­low for stand­alone res­i­den­tial developmen­t on the site as well as per­mis­sion to ex­ceed the zon­ing law’s height lim­its and park­ing re­quire­ments.

Neigh­bors say the kind of developmen­t pos­si­ble un­der a high­way com­mer­cial zon­ing des­ig­na­tion is eas­ier to stom­ach than the den­sity be­ing pro­posed for the Park View Apart­ments project. In late Au­gust, residents at­tended a meet­ing with the de­vel­oper to learn more about the pro­posal and voice con­cerns.

Harm said she and other residents who at­tended the meet­ing do not be­lieve their con­cerns were ad­dressed by the de­vel­oper. Bizati could not be reached for com­ment.

De­ter­mined that their voices be heard, residents have been cir­cu­lat­ing a pe­ti­tion to op­pose the zon­ing vari­ances. The pe­ti­tion has gar­nered more than 60 sig­na­tures from the neighborho­od, and Harm said she hopes this will serve as a clear mes­sage to the zon­ers that residents near­est the developmen­t have se­ri­ous fears about how it will af­fect con­ges­tion and traf­fic safety.

David Burke, a long­time South White­hall res­i­dent among the con­cerned neigh­bors, has been skep­ti­cal of a lot of re­cent town­ship developmen­t. Burke is among those who’ve been closely fol­low­ing the Ridge Farm project, a 780-unit mixed-use pro­posal that’s a 3-mile drive east of the Park View project. The Ridge Farm project is un­der scru­tiny for the traf­fic it would add to al­ready crowded roads in the town­ship and is await­ing a Plan­ning Com­mis­sion rec­om­men­da­tion on con­di­tional uses be­ing sought by de­vel­oper Kay Builders.

Burke said he un­der­stands that residents can­not halt a developmen­t from mov­ing for­ward, es­pe­cially when the ap­pli­cant is act­ing within the pa­ram­e­ters of a site’s zon­ing laws.

But that’s just the prob­lem with this sce­nario, he said. The plans for the project rely on sig­nif­i­cant zon­ing law ad­just­ments, which Burke said don’t match up with the lo­ca­tion.

Burke be­lieves that if the de­vel­oper was re­quired to build within the zon­ing re­quire­ments, the mat­ters wor­ry­ing residents wouldn’t be an is­sue.

“I un­der­stand now that the town­ship can’t stop a de­vel­oper and buyer from mov­ing for­ward with a pro­posal — we get that,” Burke said. “But un­der high­way-com­mer­cial, what­ever is built there is safe for the com­mu­nity. In this case, the num­ber of units is just as­tound­ing.”

Like his neigh­bors, Burke’s most press­ing con­cern is traf­fic. The apart­ments would be vis­i­ble from Route 22 and Route 309, but ac­cess wouldn’t be so easy. It would be im­pos­si­ble to en­ter from Route 309 since it would be too close to the junction with Route 22. That means traf­fic will be forced onto quiet Bull­dog Drive and res­i­den­tial Crack­er­sport Road.

“The area is, what I like to call, exit-chal­lenged,” Burke said of the prop­erty. “It’s stuck in that cor­ner and there’s no good way to get out of it.”

Op­po­nents to the developmen­t pre­dict that ten­ants would cut through neighborho­od roads, which are dot­ted with play­grounds and bus stops, in an ef­fort to avoid what would likely be a traf­fic headache each rush hour.

Mid­dle school-aged chil­dren in the neighborho­od typ­i­cally walk to Spring­house Mid­dle School, Harm said. She’s al­ready seen more traf­fic on the roads dur­ing peak hours as the town­ship ex­pe­ri­ences a wave of new developmen­t.

“With the traf­fic that cur­rently ex­ists, peo­ple are whizzing by,” Harm said of the bus stop at Park­land Drive. “With this developmen­t, it’s hard to imag­ine it not be­com­ing a main thor­ough­fare.”

The ho­tel it­self has weath­ered its own share of is­sues in the town­ship. Most re­cently in 2017, while op­er­at­ing as an Econo Lodge, the ho­tel was un­der pres­sure by town­ship of­fi­cials to evict the long-term ten­ants whose month­s­long stays were a vi­o­la­tion of mu­nic­i­pal code for the op­er­a­tion.

A drug-re­lated shoot­ing in the park­ing lot of the ho­tel in July 2017 brought ex­as­per­ated residents to town­ship meet­ings.

A bul­let from the in­ci­dent hit the nearby Le­high Val­ley Home and Gar­den Cen­ter.

Harm said neigh­bors un­der­stand the own­ers’ de­sire to trans­form the prop­erty. “The cur­rent zon­ing should mat­ter,” she said. “There are so many rea­sons why it’s high­way-com­mer­cial and not res­i­den­tial in that area. We’re not op­posed to developmen­t of that land, but want to see it hap­pen in a way that’s in ac­cor­dance with the zon­ing laws and in a way that makes the com­mu­nity bet­ter.”

SARAH M. WO­J­CIK/THE MORN­ING CALL

The owner of the ParkView Inn in South White­hall Town­ship is seek­ing zon­ing vari­ances that would al­low for the developmen­t of an apart­ment com­plex.

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