By Monday the residential plan had been abandoned.
A request for a zoning variance to build a residential development on land zoned for institutional use at 380 & 402 Haws Lane took an unexpected turn when the project was dropped Monday, ending months of debate.
Despite the date for the Springfield Township Planning Commission meeting being both Rosh Hashanah and the night before the first day of school, the Administration Building parking lot was full by 6:50 p.m. on September 7. Approximately 40 residents filled all available seats, in addition to six planning commission members and a commissioner, Township staff, and the presenters. The only COVID protocol in place was a stipulation to wear masks, with no requirement for social distance or vaccination status.
The agenda was a zoning variance to build a townhouse development on 380 & 402 Haws Lane in Flourtown on land zoned for institutional use. The proposal was originally presented in April. Since Chairperson Amanda Helwig had a kindergartener at home who would start school the next morning, she said she hoped for a shorter, rather longer, meeting. About an hour into the session, it did not seem likely that Helwig would be able to tuck her kindergartener in that night.
The project was presented by Chris Canavan, President of W.B. Homes, Inc. and Brian Halligan of MEH Investments & 380 Haws, LP, partners in the planned development. Halligan laid out some of his options for the property: selling to long-term care, assisted living, or behavioral health facilities; selling to the Township for preservation; or working with Canavan on a residential development of townhouses. Since he was not happy with the offers for the institutional uses, and the Township chose not to purchase the property, the townhouse development seemed like the most promising option. Implementing that plan would require a zoning variance.
The 4.79-acre Haws Lane tract is located between Erdenheim Elementary School and Harston Hall, a senior living facility. A trail behind the property leads to Springfield Township High School. A recent visit to the site revealed several brick buildings that appeared to be residential. There are also some businesses listed at 380 Haws Lane’s “Main Gatehouse,” including Traditions of Springfield and KNAG Properties, LLC. The property is largely left wild, with a driveway intersecting it from Haws Lane to Harston Hall’s parking area. On the grounds that day were eight or nine cars parked in the back near the woods; several looked as if they hadn’t been moved for some time. Old-growth trees border the property.
Canavan’s presentation included slides of the two draft plans for the Haws Lane tract. Both proposed 36 total townhouse units, a reduction from the original 41. The second draft displayed more decentralized green space. In response to neighbor’s concerns, Canavan had contracted with a certified arborist who will provide a comprehensive report on the health and wellbeing of the trees on the property.
The price of homes would be in the range of $500,000 to $600,000 and have a one- or two-car garage, plus parking spaces for two cars. He said that the amount of parking spaces required would be less than what was needed for an assisted living facility, and that the traffic flow would be about the same. A storm water run-off plan would improve conditions not only for their property but would positively affect area properties as well. He indicated that he would be open to modifying plans in response to the Commission’s recommendations.
He posed the following question to the audience. Would they prefer an institutional or a residential development at the Haws Lane site?
Most speakers presented objections to the plan. Many cited increased traffic and lack of parking on Haws Lane. Others were concerned with storm runoff, citing recent storms that hit the area hard. Many hoped that the Township would attend to environmental concerns and urged them to consider all ongoing proposals in terms of the climate change crisis. Others wanted to protect the old-growth trees on the property.
Some residents indicated a preference for a residential use of the property. Others were concerned that the cost was too high for young families. Some objected to a new development so close to the elementary and high schools.
Residents’ comments continued until about 8:40, when Mark Panacale, the staff liaison, reported on 24 emails he had received from residents who could not attend that night. The comments were very similar: the use of permeable materials for the paved surfaces, reducing the number of homes to 20, or opening the space up as an environmental education center.
As for members of the Planning Commission, Gerry Quill was not opposed to residential development on that tract. Robert Gutowski wanted to make sure that the exemption, if granted, would only apply to this site and not affect other developments in the Township. Helwig was concerned about the switch to residential use when the original plan was to develop for institutional use but was pleased that the planners decided to hire an arborist. She also expressed a preference for single-family homes. Angela Murray spoke about the need for affordable housing in the township but noted that this property was not appropriate due to the cost and the lack of public transportation.
The Planning Commission closed with a decision to meet and decide on a recommendation in time for the Board of Commissioners’ October meeting.
On Monday, Brian Halligan, owner of the Haws Lane property, issued a statement that the residential plan had been abandoned. “Based on the feedback we have received from neighbors,” Halligan said, “we will be pursuing the by-right option of institutional use on the property and the townhouse plan is not being submitted for further consideration.” Halligan wished that the neighbors had supported the townhouse plan as the best use for the property.
Referring to the current residences on the property, he said that they were there long before he bought it. “The underlying zoning is institutional,” Halligan explained. “anything in that zoning is permitted for new construction.”
Minutes and an audio recording of this meeting are available at the Township website https://springfieldmontco.org