Opinion | The best place for a market in Conshohocken and why the scope of the Main Street Overlay Task Force should be expanded to include a street other than Fayette Street

Please note that this was written without speaking to any of the property owners, borough officials, task force members, and anyone else involved. It is simply based on observing Conshohocken closely since 2009 and we think having a pretty good grasp on the history of redevelopment and its impacts.

The Borough of Conshohocken recently announced the appointed members and meeting dates for a Main Street Overlay Task Force. The task force is empowered to “review the current and future land use of the Fayette Steet Corridor with the goal of making recommendations to Borough Council with respect to an amendment of the Borough’s Zoning Ordinance to include a Main Street Overlay District.”

Prior to the task force being formed, the borough held a public event where members of the public, from residents to business/property owners, were allowed to suggest and discuss ideas on what types of businesses are desired along Fayette Street.

Two main ideas came from that meeting. The first is the desire for a market or indoor farmers’ market type business. The location discussed was the former car dealership along the 1100 block of Fayette Street that since 2010 has been the focus of a failed effort to develop a Wawa with gas pumps.

For one big reason, we actually do not believe that the location focused on is the best location for a market. Everyone always talks about walkability and that location is at the border with Whitemarsh and uphill from the vast majority of the borough’s residents. And if you have to use your car, what is the actual difference between shopping at the “Little Giant” and a market at the Whitemarsh border? Not that much.

As we have suggested before, the borough needs to get creative with the developer that owns the former dealership, and CVS. The CVS in Conshohocken is terrible and Conshohocken deserves a modern CVS, which should be built at the former car dealership. The market or indoor farmer’s market should happen at what is now CVS.

This plan brings a desired amenity to the center of town.

But that will mean seniors will have to walk further to get their prescriptions! Possibly, but eventually, an independently owned pharmacy is going to open in Conshohocken. From our experience, they offer free delivery,

The second idea that was floated was a desire to expand small retail up Fayette Street through the redevelopment of properties along Fayette Street. For example, the former Exxon property at 7th and Fayette was recently approved for mixed-use redevelopment consisting of first-floor retail with apartments above. The rendering above is of this development.

That sounds great, but there is nothing really wrong with keeping the upper avenues on Fayette Street more leafy and sleepy (except for traffic). The density of the population is at the lower end, and we believe that the better opportunity for this type of redevelopment is West Elm Street. This area will have approximately 1,500 new residents in the three new apartment communities (two are completed and one is still under construction).

One of the areas of Conshohocken that has been most impacted by redevelopment and traffic is West Elm Street. Over the years, we have received numerous complaints from residents along this corridor regarding traffic and noise. The most recent developments and the eventual addition of an exit for the turnpike at the end of Conshohocken Road are only going to increase the problems.

The above image shows the area of West Elm Street between Maple Street and Colwell Lane, along with a block up Maple Street. We have divided it into five sections. Please note that these lines do not accurately reflect property lines. We just divided it up as we thought made the most sense.

Rezoning this area for commercial and/or mixed uses would increase the value of the properties and offer any resident homeowners the best opportunity to move if they choose. For rental and commercial property owners, they are businesses and it comes down to a financial decision.

In addition to the proximity to the growing population, look at just how much space there actually is to work with. The homes in Section 1 sit on thin, but deep properties. The section of Wood Street behind the property only serves to access the back of the homes, Haines & Silvatti Park (Section 5), and a recycling business (Section 3).

Sections 2 and 4 also back up to the recycling business, with a significant portion of Section 2 already having a commercial use (Guppy’s Good Times).

This is the area that should be a focus for rezoning to bring a mix of uses to serve the population density within just a few blocks. In our opinion, if some combination of the sections we outlined were redeveloped, it would create an opportunity for new businesses that could serve the neighborhood and the community.

Due to this, we think the scope of the task force should be expanded to include West Elm Street.

Let us know what you think in the comments.