Column | Montgomery County “encouraging” denser development in communities with regional rail and other public transportation hubs

Montgomery County’s Planning Commission recently released a document (view) that “encourages municipalities with transit access, especially Regional Rail stations, to plan for and promote a greater density of development and mix of land uses around transit resources by creating transit-oriented development (TOD) zoning districts.”

TODs are nothing new. Conshohocken has become one giant TOD. Ambler hasn’t thus far.

You may remember in 2017 when a developer attempted to have a TOD zoning district created around the Fort Washington train station that would have seen an apartment community built adjacent to it. Whitemarsh Township rejected that proposal.

What you probably didn’t know about TODs is that the county considers up to a half-mile from a train station an area appropriate for TOD-type development. With the Borough of Ambler being approximately one square mile, a large portion of the Borough of Ambler should be considered for rezoning for a “greater density of development and mix of land uses” according to the county.

Ambler really never went through a redevelopment period. We would call Ambler’s experience more of a revival. In its more recent history, key buildings in Ambler weren’t knocked down for office buildings and apartment complexes. Its neighborhoods have remained largely unchanged.

In comparison, Conshohocken cleared just over 40 acres in the early 1980s stretching from its downtown to the riverfront. Among the buildings lost was The Riant movie theater. Today, Ambler has a movie theater, a playhouse, a shopping district, and great dining. Conshohocken has great dining.

You would be wrong to believe that this is just pie-in-the-sky type of stuff put out by a government bureaucracy that no one will ever read.

Abington Township is already on the move with this type of rezoning. It is currently in the process of developing a new comprehensive plan for the township (which is required every 10 years). Within the current draft of the plan, a “Future Land Use Map” (see above) shows blue dotted circles labeled “1/2 Mile Transit-Oriented Overlay.” You will also find a document from the county within this draft plan that advocates for TODs (starting page 27).

Having a train station in your community has always been considered a benefit. However, the quaint train station is now being viewed by governments at all levels as an opportunity to reimagine the neighborhoods within a half-mile of the station, especially when it comes to creating denser housing.

If you do not like this, do not blame the developers. They just take advantage of what is allowed. For example, most of you reading this voted for Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence. Watch the video we embedded above. He is excited about transit-oriented developments and the county he helps lead is pushing them to the municipalities.

Please note that we are not anti-development. But 1/2 mile circles popping up on land use maps concerns us.

When it comes to Ambler, the revival has been very beneficial to the community. We are concerned that filling SEPTA trains is viewed as a priority in development instead of allowing a community to prosper organically.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

Map: Abington Township