The Ten Year Parlor Trick
POTTSTOWN, PA – Hanover Square, Gateway Commons, Mrs. Smith Pie Plant Facility, Cornell Homes, Greystone Capital Partners, Ryan Homes, Wolfington Companies, Pottstown Redevelopment Group, The Wright Group…the cast of characters and names have changed a dizzying amount of times since the ball started rolling on this development project back in November of 2003.
But finally, it looks like progress is being made…although more residential properties contributing to our school district is not the progress we wanted in Pottstown.
Cornell Homes, a Media, PA-based home builder, took over this 13-acre project from Ryan Homes last December and building has been fast and furious since that time. According to a recent article, 18 homes are completed and occupied and another 30 are under construction. When completed, there will be 118 three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath townhomes, complete with two-car garages (some will even have views of the Schuylkill River).
The project, now called Hanover Square, has a dedicated website and cutesy promotional video (that should make the mayor happy).
While it’s nice to see new construction in Pottstown, the reality is that when the project is complete and 118 townhomes fill the former Mrs. Smith’s parcel, 34 of those townhomes will be rental properties. Isn’t that wonderful? Just what we needed…more rental properties in Pottstown.
When this project was pitched to borough council and the school board seven years ago, both governmental entities had the same reaction. “What happened to all the nightclubs and restaurants?” Councilman Stephen Toroney said when the plan was presented to council in August of 2005. “I’m upset at all these homes and I’m worried about the impact it could have on our school district.”
During the school board’s December 15, 2005 meeting, three individuals from Wolfington Companies presented to the board an overview of the project. The project was intended to be a multi-use site with 119 townhomes as well as commercial and retail uses (which is close to today’s 118 townhome figure…without any of the commercial or retail tax dollar benefits). One of the first questions asked was by former school board member Dr. James Smock: “How do we prevent these homes from becoming rental properties?”
The presenters stated that The Home Owners Association can write regulations to insure standards and quality, which would include restrictions on Section 8 housing. A nice non-committal answer…we’ll see how that pans out.
Now we realize that the U.S. economy started tanking in 2008, but still, the parcel should have included some kind of commercial use…after all…it was commercial in the first place.
Another frustrating fact is that when Greystone Capital Partners started work on the Mrs. Smith Pies site and the former First Fidelity Bank, they had also started purchasing several properties along the 422 corridor from Maplewood Drive to Monocacy Creek Road. And how is that area doing now? It’s exploded with commercial growth while Pottstown has not. Now given, the former First Fidelity Building does house a restaurant as originally proposed (the popular Brick House), but it’s not exactly the “upscale” restaurant pitched by the developers back in 2004.
When Greystone discussed the project during a 2004 chamber of commerce breakfast, they stated that the townhomes will be geared to “bring young people into downtown, walking downtown and spending money.” It was also stated that the project, when completed, would create between 500 and 1,000 jobs.
Cornell is marketing these townhomes as the “lowest-priced new home community in all of Montgomery County”…so that’s what we’re attracting? Homeowners (and renters) who can’t afford to live anywhere else in Montgomery County? Somehow, if they can’t afford to live anywhere else in Montco, we highly doubt they’ll have the money to walk downtown, spend money, and whoop it up.
Once again, Pottstown has received the low end of the economic stick. A ten year parlor trick gone bad.
“It may have been excruciating at times, but to me, it was worth it, for the good of Pottstown. I think this will be the cornerstone of redevelopment in Pottstown, and we’re hoping it’s contagious.” ~ Fred Reim, the president and chief executive officer of Security National Bank and the president of the PAID board, November 25, 2003