Public Speaks Out Against Proposed Apartment Community Along Bethlehem Pike in Fort Washington

It was standing room only at last night’s meeting of the Whitemarsh Township Planning Commission. The issue that generated the interest was a proposal to build an apartment community near the intersection of Bethlehem Pike and the Lafayette Avenue Connector in Fort Washington.

The developer, a LTD formed by Harth Builders and Altman Management (a big player in the apartment businesses), appeared before the Planning Commission on on May 23rd and came back at this meeting with a revised proposal that reduced the scope of the development. For example, the number of apartments was reduced from 300+ to a maximum of 232 and the front of the building was moved 15 feet further from Bethlehem Pike.

Members of the Planning Commission still expressed concerns about the density, number of parking spaces, height, distance from the road, and the flood plain.

At issue isn’t specifically apartments, but a proposed text amendment that would allow the development of apartments in a new zoning transit oriented district. Transient Oriented Districts are meant to be close to public transportation and encourage such use.

During public comment, the attorney representing Fort Washington Rescape, pointed out some glaring omissions from the proposed text amendment. For example, there was no defined height to a floor of a building. So while the developer is proposing a 50′ high building, as written, the text amendment includes no language to enforce that.

In addition to Fort Washington Rescape, there were a bunch of citizens who live around the property or nearby that expressed concerns about increased traffic, flooding, children walking between the train station and Germantown Academy (GA can’t afford a van?) and maintaining the historic character of the area.

The people speaking against it were met with applause. The chair of the Planning Commission had to ask several times for the crowd to not applaud of jeer the speakers. Only one member of the public, who owns an adjacent property, spoke in support of it.

It ended with the members of the Planning Commission offering at best lukewarm support of redeveloping that area, but they chose to not act on it. Based on what was said, they wanted the text amended to be revised further.

Expect this issue to appear on a future Planning Commission agenda. Whether it is approved by the Planning Commission doesn’t really matter as its an advisory decision. Whitemarsh Township’s Board of Supervisors will make the ultimate decision or simply chose not to consider it.

More to come.