Plymouth Township’s Council Gives Final Approval for Office Building and Hotel

Last night Plymouth Township’s Council unanimously approved two development projects in Plymouth Meeting. The first involved a proposal to knock down two office buildings at 527 Plymouth Road and replace it with one larger building and a parking garage. The way the approval was worded, the developer has the option to build a five or seven story building. The second approval is for a Woodspring Suites at 101 Lee Drive.

In regards to the office building, there was a late effort involving citizens to voice concerns about traffic and the impact on the nearby Plymouth Elementary School. The vote on Monday was the last vote to approve the project, which according to Plymouth’s Council had gone through a months long series of steps to obtain approval.

What resulted was a discussion on how the public is notified on issues such as  development issues. At least two nearby residents claimed to not have received notices in the mail and a couple speakers said that the Township needs to be more pro-active in notifying the public.

As someone who actually tries to actively seek out this type of information on an almost daily basis, these two projects completely slipped by us. We cover four municipalities (Conshohocken, West Conshohocken, Plymouth Township and Whitemarsh Township). What is legally required is mailing a notice to property owners within a certain distance, advertising a notice in a newspaper, including it on appropriate agendas and placing a notice on the property involved.

The big issue is how the projects are described within the information that is out there. For example, on the agenda for the office building that was approved last evening, this is what was provided to the public on the agenda under 4.2 Subdivision and Land Development:

c. L.D. 17-3 Exeter 527 Plymouth LP/Plymouth Woods Office Park
1) Expiration date December 12, 2017 – ACTION (11-033) (11-026)

What does that mean? It doesn’t tell the public any detail. If you Google “L.D. 17-3” you get one result, which is the agenda for Monday evening. If you Google “527 Plymouth LP” the results aren’t much better and what you get isn’t informative.

So what can be done? Here are our suggestions:

1. Each proposed development or zoning issue should have a folder within the municipalities website that includes all the documentation. This would mean every agenda it appeared on, any minutes it appeared within, parking and/or traffic studies, renderings, plans, advertisements/notices, etc.
2. Make sure that agendas and minutes are searchable. A lot of times municipalities will make their documents protected and thus not searchable, nor do they show up in Google results.
3. On agendas actually describe the proposed project. We think, and this is our opinion, that the municipalities don’t do this because they are concerned that how they describe it might influence support or opposition. The description doesn’t have to be long. It could be as simple as “Involves a proposal to build a five to seven story office building.” It should also then direct people to the appropriate folder on the municipalities’ website.
4. Post all notices and advertisements on social media. We went back and looked at each municipalities’ Facebook page over the last six months and development information/notices is non-existent. The Borough of West Conshohocken doesn’t even have a Facebook page (the police department does).
5. While we know doesn’t qualify as a place to advertise legal notices, we would welcome the opportunity to publish each municipalities’ notices. More people will read them through our site than the Times Herald.
6. Explain why things get approved or denied via social media and website. This will help people under the process and the reasoning behind decisions.

Let us know in the comments if you have any other suggestions (or what you think of ours).