Board holds hearing on proposed overlay
New map could allow low-impact uses on underutilized properties
UPPER GWYNEDD >> A new overlay district meant to spur development along Sumneytown Pike is another step closer to being on the books.
The township commissioners held a formal hearing to discuss a new Sumneytown Pike overlay, allowing new uses on a stretch of several neighboring properties.
“Once the text is adopted, you can always extend it, with a future map amendment if you want
to apply it to other properties up and down Sumneytown Pike,” said township solicitor David Onorato.
Since February 2018, staff and the board have discussed ways to allow different types of uses and encourage development along the stretch now proposed for inclusion in the overlay, on the north side of Sumneytown Pike roughly between Allentown Road and Broad Street.
During the commissioners’ Nov. 19 meeting, the board held a formal public hearing on the proposed overlay, and Onorato and planning and zoning officer Van Rieker gave details.
“What it does is, it lays out by way of an overlay district an area of Sumneytown Pike for different uses, provided certain conditions are met,” Onorato said.
The north side of Sumneytown Pike where the overlay has been proposed is currently zoned for a mix of R-1 and R-2 residential, with a parcel of institutional zoning just west of Allentown Road and commercial zoning surrounding the intersection at Broad Street.
“The overlay is just what it sounds like: it’s a twopart zoning district. The underlying zoning will not be changed,” Rieker said.
The overlay text amendment discussed during the hearing spells out the terms and conditions for those property owners to seek permission for a new use by following the township’s conditional use approval process.
“Tonight is the text only, which amends the zoning ordinance text. Your next step would be to ID the particular properties,” said Rieker.
“We think we have some in mind: six or seven, basically opposite the Merck frontage. That is not the discussion tonight, but it will be, perhaps in a month or two,” he said.
Several of the property owners had contacted the township to ask about options, Rieker told the board, and the ordinance developed by staff has been vetted by both the township and Montgomery County planning commissions.
“It sets forward what the applicant needs to present to the township in terms of plans, traffic impact study, landscape plan, architectural drawings, things like that,” Rieker said.
Staff are envisioning the first draft of the overlay to encompass properties between the railroad overpass that crosses Sumneytown, farther west to include the property just east of Keiffer’s Appliances and Dunkin’ Donuts.
“The uses that would be allowed by conditional use, that are not now allowed in the underlying zoning, are: mini storage facility, multi-family dwelling not to exceed eight dwellings per acre, low-impact business or professional office of not more than 6,000 square feet in floor area,” Onorato said.
“Those are the uses we’re targeting for this area, which would be over and above what are allowed now,” he said.
Rieker said those uses were selected because all would likely have minimal impact on traffic in that area, and expanding the area could be addressed as the township updates its comprehensive plan in 2019.
“We’re looking for uses that would not have high (traffic) volume as the end result,” he said.
The exhibits included in the hearing on Nov. 19 included a draft of the ordinance, a proof of publication, and a review letter from the Montgomery County Planning Commission. Rieker said a similar letter had not yet been received from the township’s planning commission, but members had visited the sites in question and would likely issue their own letter in December.
Commissioner Jim Santi asked if formalizing or expanding the area under the overlay would require any additional changes to the text of the overlay ordinance itself. Onorato said it would not, and once the overlay is on the books, only changes to the map would be needed.
“We have maximum flexibility at this point,” Onorato said.
Upper Gwynedd’s commissioners next meet at 7 p.m. on Dec. 11 at the township administration building, 1 Parkside Place.
A portion of Upper Gwynedd Township’s zoning map showing different zoning areas along Sumneytown Pike. From left to right on the north side of Sumneytown are a shopping center district, townhouse residential, garden apartments, R-2 residential on the north side and R-3 residential to the south, and office center at Sumneytown and Broad. On the east side of Broad Street is a commercial district, then more R-2, then an institutional zone surrounded by R-1 residential, all across from limited industrial zoning for Merck facilities on the south side of Sumneytown.