Rocky start to proposal to build 598 riverfront apartments at border of Whitemarsh and Conshohocken

During the September 28th meeting of Whitemarsh Township’s Planning Commission, the commissioners considered an application from KRE Acquisition Corp. on a proposal to build a 598 apartment community at 401-433 Washington Street. The property is split by the border of the Borough of Conshohocken and Whitemarsh Township, and the commissioners were only considering zoning relief sought for the 20% that falls within Whitemarsh Township.

During the presentation, the developer’s architect provided details on the proposed development and how it has changed since a similar apartment community was approved on this same property between 2013-2015. The developer’s attorney explained the zoning relief being sought from the zoning hearing board. Note that the property has been sold since the previous approvals were granted and those approvals have lapsed.

According to the presentation made by the architect, the major change is that there is a promenade with public access to the river from Washington Street. There were also changes to how vehicles would enter the property from Washington Street, an increase in the size of a section of parking spaces, and lobbies in each building off the promenade for entering and exiting the building (instead of through the parking lots under the buildings).

The developer’s attorney started with two items that they believed relief was not necessary for but asked that their interpretation of the zoning code be confirmed.

The first item involved whether impervious surfaces, utilities, accessory structures, and nonresidential structures are allowed within the Floodplain Conservation District. The attorney argued that since apartments are allowed, things such as impervious surfaces and utilities are allowed because they are necessary for apartments. Patrick Doran, chair of the planning commission, disagreed stating that since there are uses and activities that are specifically mentioned within the section, other uses shouldn’t be assumed.

The second item involved whether the clearing of vegetation, installation of parking lots, roads, driveways, fences, and stormwater basins are permitted within the Riparian (bank of the river) Corridor Conservation District. The developer plans a public space along the river and a continuation of the walking path that has been constructed as properties along the river have been developed. Board member Scott Quitel questioned why such a landscaped area was needed and the path could still be continued even if the riverbank area was allowed to be space for native trees and shrubs.

The board disagreed with the developer’s interpretation of both items and voted to not recommend a variance by a vote of 5-2.

The third item involved seeking a special exception to allow a stormwater retention basin within the floodway. The developer seeks to do this to capture stormwater underground, filter it, and release it slowly back into the river. Members of the board questioned whether having this within the floodway was necessary and the township’s engineering consultant endorsed it as long as it was created in a way that established a natural ecosystem.

On the third item, the board voted to recommend a special exception by a vote of 5-2.

The fourth item involved a request for a special exception to allow utilities, public facilities, and improvements such as streets, transmission lines, pipelines, water lines, and similar uses within the floodway fringe.

On the fourth item, the board voted 4-3 to not recommend the special exception.

The sixth item (note that it is the sixth item because two items, the fifth and seventh were withdrawn prior to the meeting) involved a request for a special exception that would allow the developer to include a 125′ wide section of riverfront land it intends to dedicate to the public to be included in calculations used to determine allowable maximum building and impervious ground coverage.

On the sixth item, the board voted 7-0 to not recommend. Overall the board voted to recommend just one of the five items.

Throughout the meeting, members of the board brought up the recent flooding and expressed concerns that due to climate change the riverfront will have more regular flooding. The developer shared that it has met with the emergency management staff in both municipalities and plan to follow their recommendations. It was also mentioned by the developer’s representatives that the first-floor living space is 14′ from the parking surface, which is approximately three feet higher than the Riverwalk Apartments (on a neighboring property).

A few interesting items:

– The “K” in KRE is Kushner. The developer involved is the uncle of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law.

– The zoning hearing in Whitemarsh for this proposal is scheduled for October 6th. An agenda has not yet been released.

– It wasn’t clear whether an application has been filed in Conshohocken as of yet, however, there were a handful of mentions by the developer of having met with the borough’s staff.

Photo: Rendering from KRE Acquisition Corp.

Correction – Note that when originally published the zoning hearing was said to be October 4th. This has been corrected to say October 6th.