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. What you see at the Conshohocken and Spring Mill train stations are examples of building offices and multifamily complexes near a train station.

What you might not have known, 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 Conshohocken being one square mile and the riverfront bookended by two train stations, a large portion of the Borough of Conshohocken should be considered for rezoning for a “greater density of development and mix of land uses” according to the county.

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).

And Conshohocken, it has already done this.

The Borough of Conshohocken created three special zoning districts for this type of development in 2001. All of these districts exist between the river and East or West Elm streets. That was the boundary between the big office buildings/apartment communities and the main street and residential neighborhoods.

In 2017, Conshohocken’s Borough Council took it a step further and created a fourth special zoning district that crossed the established boundary and allowed for SORA West to be developed on the other side of West Elm Street. This was in an area that had been zoned commercial. For example, when zoned commercially, a building that could have been built in what is now the SORA West area would have been limited to 40′. It is now 180′.

We sat through the approval process for SORA West and the new zoning district. SORA West was referred to as a TOD throughout the process.

Want to know the kicker? Conshohocken’s Borough Council sold land to the developer to make the TOD possible (the grass field that was next to the firehouse and the vacant historic firehouse).

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 drop in thousands of commuters and new residents that will redefine suburban communities.

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 TOD and the county he helps lead is pushing them to the municipalities.

If you are in Conshohocken, ask Borough Council President Colleen Leonard and other members of the council why they chose to sell a publicly-owned property and building and then rezone it for a TOD.

Whitemarsh has also been involved in a TOD. In 2007, the Board of Supervisors created the Riverfront Development Overlay District that follows principles of the TOD concept. This is why you had an apartment community built adjacent to the Spring Mill train station. Whitemarsh Township is currently conducting a study and public survey on the Spring Mill area of the township (which has a Conshohocken address). You can take the survey here.

In regards to Whitemarsh, there is a mention of a proposed TOD ordinance involving Fort Washington on page five of the county’s presentation. A proposal from a developer to rezone the train station area as a TOD and construct apartments adjacent was rejected in 2017.

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 Conshohocken, the confined redevelopment area along the riverfront was very beneficial to the community. Expanding it out further to fill SEPTA trains would be a detriment.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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