Developers’ plans for first phase of new mall draw citizen outrage

posted Thu, Jan 26, 2012

By Richard L. Gaw

Chester County Press

During a sometimes volatile three-hour exchange between commercial developers, New Garden Township supervisors and 150 local residents, plans were shared for the first phase of development for White Clay Point, an eventual 700,000-square-foot retail center on Gap-Newport Pike (Route 41) near Landenberg, which is anticipated to open in phases beginning in 2012. The meeting was held Oct. 10 at the Township Building.

Referring to a multi-colored image projected onto a large screen, representatives from the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) unveiled Phase 1 (A)(1) of the project, which calls for the construction of a 181,000-square-foot Walmart on the south side of Route 41, and a Wawa convenience store located to the south and across Route 41 from the store.

This phase, scheduled to break ground in 2011, is contingent on the receipt of financial agreements and signed documents — and is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2012. This phase is part of a projected 716,000-square-foot retail and mixed-use town center, extending from just north of the Route 7 exit, and extending to Sunny Dell Road and Reynolds Road in Landenberg.

In addition to the Walmart, a multi-tenant retail center will be constructed adjacent to the store, and an 83-lot age-restricted residential community will be constructed on the north side of Route 41. Additionally, the project calls for road improvements to Sunny Dell Road, Sharp Road, Sheehan Road and the widening of Route 41, as well as some improvements on Route 7.

PREIT spokesman Greg Adelman said the project is scheduled to be smaller than originally expected. Based on the subdivision/land development plan changes for the project issued on Aug. 3, the “footprint” of the Walmart is being reduced from 184,198 square feet to 181,648 square feet, while the Wawa is being reduced from 6,105 square feet to 4,983 square feet.

Overall, the total impervious coverage for the site is being reduced from 2,045,432 square feet to 1,955,233 square feet – a decrease of 90,199 feet. The total proposed building coverage for the site will be reduced from 490,955 square feet to a little more than 472,000 square feet.
To make room for the new tenants, Adelman said that all current mushroom and compost operations in the vicinity of the development will be required to cease operation by the end of the year, and that these sites will be dismantled.

The White Clay Point project is only one of several retail properties owned and operated by PREIT. Founded in 1960, the Philadelphia-based company’s portfolio consists of 49 retail properties, including 38 shopping malls, eight community centers and three development properties, located in the eastern half of the nation and primarily in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The original seeds of this project date back nearly 13 years, when plans were first filed with the township’s planning commission. After two years of hearings with the planning commission, the project was first brought to a township board hearing on Nov. 29, 2001. On April 23, 2003, after 19 public hearings, the board attached 97 total conditions to the agreement. On May 14, 2003, PREIT appealed to the Court of Common Pleas in Chester County, and settled the lawsuit on June 25, 2007 after a series of public hearings.

The project received preliminary approval on Aug. 11, 2008, and final approval on Sept. 8, 2008. The first phase of development had been placed on hold due to the struggling economy.

During that time, the Township asked PREIT to focus on three components of the project: Its impact of the development on road safety, the proper development of stormwater management, and creating a proper architectural “feel” in the project’s design — all of which were addressed by PREIT, township officials and citizens at Monday’s meeting.

Mike Donovan, a Somerset Lake resident and a member of The Friends of New Garden, a grassroots gathering of local citizens concerned about the development, expressed concern that the impending construction would clog the Reynolds Road area on the south side of the planned development, and that after work was finished, the traffic going in and out of the mall would further create a logjam along an already busy Route 41.

“It’s going to affect our entire community,” Donovan said. “I told people that this will change the way we are, that people are going to use our community as a back road to the mall.”

According to traffic studies done on the project, there’s no reason to panic. Given that the planned project will be slightly smaller than the original design, township engineer Chris Williams said that a traffic study developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has predicted that less traffic will be generated as a result of this reduction.

According to August’s plan changes, the development will include a revised water main design in the vicinity of Sunny Dell and Egypt Roads, as well as the construction of a water tower. In addition to being a little smaller than originally projected, the White Clay Point Walmart will look modern as well.

Thomas Comitta, a West Chester-based town planner, landscape architect and a township consultant, said that the Walmart meets all Township Planning Commission requests, and that the store will be contemporary in design.

“What we have here is far better than the other Walmarts we’ve seen in this area in the last five years,” Comitta said, noting the planned building’s modern roof line and use of contemporary colors. “Would we rather see something that looks like Rome? Yes, but we’re seeing different stylistic features.”

However, the dominant question asked by residents and some of the supervisors was, “Why a Walmart?”

“Walmart is the best economic engine for a successful center, particularly in these times,” Adelman said. “Without a Walmart, it doesn’t happen.”

When asked to include a list of other potential suitors for the site, Adelman declined to name stores that had been considered.

Over the course of the three-hour deliberation, township legislators and PREIT representatives got backlash from more than a dozen local citizens.

Kim Anderson of Somerset Lake discussed the income level discrepancy between Landenberg area residents and those who normally shop at Walmart, saying that the placement of the store in the area would lower home property values.

Laura Linderman of Landenberg, who read from a prepared statement, said that she had signed a petition against the building of the Walmart that had gathered more than 250 signatures, mostly from nearby residents. Her husband Dan appealed to the board of supervisors to “be on the residents’ side,” he said. “We should all be behind this project, and we’re not.”

In a prickly exchange between Board Chairman Robert J. Perrotti and Landenberg resident Dr. Deepak Doraiswamy, Doraiswamy asked Perrotti if the township supervisors are reflecting the needs of the community or the needs of PREIT. “But name one advantage of building a Walmart here,” Doraiswamy said.

Perrotti did not provide a response.

When later asked the same question, PREIT  representatives did not answer, saying instead that the advantages are included in earlier proposals.

After public discourse ended well past midnight, the board voted to proceed with the project, with the caveat that PREIT closely attend to seven provisions to the agreement spelled out by board member Bob Norris.

“The truth is that they’re (PREIT) sticking to the agreement of this deal,” Norris told the audience. “They have a legal right and they can do with it whatever they want to. They’re taking a huge risk and now they have to make decisions that are good for them.”

Perrotti pointed to the tax advantages for the township that the mall would bring.

“Every building on this project will need to pay school taxes,” he said. “The value of homes have dropped as much as twenty percent, and consequently, the school district has lost the resources as a result of of taxes having to be reassessed. If we don’t get tax revenues, taxes will have to increase. You can’t have the roads maintained and police coverage if you don’t have the income to do so.

“This will be one of the most major improvements made to this stretch of highway in my lifetime,” Perrotti added. “The improvements they’re planning for New Garden Township are huge for New Garden. We need a starting point, and we need it now.”

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For more information, please visit the Friends of New Garden website.

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