Carlino’s plan for Don Guanella just doesn’t work for Marple
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It’s been almost two years since the Archdiocese of Philadelphia ended the Cardinal Crossing saga by cancelling the agreement of sale with Bruce Goodman. Since that time, various developers have been circling and one has emerged with a new contract with the Archdiocese: Carlino Commercial Development of Conshohocken. They have submitted a sketch plan for the Don Guanella site to PennDOT and it will be presented to Marple Township on May 21st at the high school. As with Goodman’s Cardinal Crossing, Carlino’s overly large proposal requires Marple’s Commissioners to rezone the land. While smaller than Goodman’s original gargantuan plan, Crum Creek Neighbors has many of the same concerns as we did with Cardinal Crossing. Chief among these are massive new traffic volumes, serious environmental impacts, unneeded duplicative retail space in an already saturated market area, and loss of existing mature forest and trails. (Click on images to see larger versions.)
There are two Carlino sketches of the plans floating around and both of them are completely unacceptable. According to one posted in November, the development would consist of 376,000 square feet of commercial space (13 separate buildings) on 51 acres and have a large supermarket, several restaurants, several box stores, a three story medical office building, and eight acres of soccer fields cut deep into a mature part of the forest and built over a trail hub area behind the existing Don Guanella Village. Several of the proposed uses (supermarket, medical office space, small and medium box stores) already exist just 300 yards away in Lawrence Park Shopping Center, creating the probability of vacant storefronts and “shopping center blight.” Another use, a large fitness center, is already planned for Lawrence Road at West Chester Pike.
The second, even less acceptable plan is now calling for 452,000 square feet of commercial space in 15 separate buildings complete with a gas station. This plan would cause traffic problems so severe that the resulting degraded quality of life would surely erode area property values and, probably, the tax base. Who would want to live anywhere near this monstrous shopping center?
No medication for this traffic headache
How much traffic would there be? The developer has not shared his estimate of how many daily vehicle trips his proposed center would generate (for either version), but compared to other developments whose numbers are known, we estimate that perhaps as much as 30,000 daily vehicle trips or more would be made in and out of the center from the smaller proposal and possibly as much as 35,000 trips from the second. On busy weekend days, these numbers would of course be higher, a problem which would be exacerbated by the many funeral processions entering the cemetery across the street.
To give you some idea of how big this development proposal actually is, some comparisons are in order. We did some digging, and we found that Carlino Commercial Development recently opened the Brandywine Mills Shopping Center at the corner of Route 1 and 202 in Concord Township. Occupying 28 acres, Brandywine Mills has about 250,000 square feet of retail/commercial space and generates an estimated 20,000 vehicle trips each day and far more on the weekend. This shopping center contributes significantly to the traffic problems that exist in Concord Township, but there’s an important difference between the Concord location and the Don Guanella site. Brandywine Mills has direct access via a “loop road” to two major three-lane roads: Route 1 and Route 202.
At almost twice the size of Brandywine Mills, Carlino’s proposal for Don Guanella would generate almost twice the traffic with only one access road onto Sproul. Even if additional lanes were added to Sproul Road between Reed Road and O’Hara, traffic would still funnel back down to two lanes at Reed and at O’Hara, and one lane at the Lamb Tavern. Traffic already backs up from Route 1 past the Lamb Tavern. If Carlino wins approval, wait times to cross the Springfield Road/Route 1 intersection would increase substantially and lead to gridlock on the Marple/Springfield border and around Lawrence Park.
As anyone who uses it will tell you, traffic on Sproul Road is already intolerable. According to PennDOT’s official counts, an average of 33,000 daily vehicle trips are currently made on Sproul Road with it all hitting the two choke points at the Lamb Tavern and at the Lawrence Park Shopping Center. Adding 30,000 to 35,000 trips to the existing 33,000 trips would lead to thousands of added trips on Crum Creek Road, Reed Road, Redhill Drive, Parkway Boulevard, Jamestown, and other neighborhood streets in the vicinity of Lawrence Park while doing little to alleviate congestion. It would, however, do much to lower the property values of homes on those roads.
Crum Creek Road is owned by Marple, so more traffic equals more maintenance costs for township taxpayers. Carlino will undoubtedly argue that “adaptive traffic signals” and road widening will move traffic along swimmingly, but we don’t share that optimism. Heavily congested intersections in Lawrence Park, at Springfield Road and Route 1, and at Route 320 and Route 1 make any traffic improvements between those points an exercise in futility. To that point, any adaptive signaling installed between Route 3 and Route 1 would prove useless given the volume of cross traffic on those roads. There’s just no getting around the fact that more cars equal longer wait times at signals and thus longer travel times.
Half a hectare of impervious surfaces
Another serious concern we have regards the vastness of impervious surface Carlino’s shopping center would have. The larger of the two plans shows approximately 2,382 parking spaces (which doesn’t include the 150+ spaces for the soccer fields), not all of which would drain to the stormwater management basins. These are far too small for the size of impervious area. If built as shown, downstream flooding will inevitably and substantially increase as will erosion to the streambanks of Whetstone Run (and its tributaries) and Darby Creek. If the basins were enlarged to handle the actual runoff, perhaps another two acres of forest would need to be cut.
Along with impervious parking lots also comes added pollution from vehicles. Oil, gasoline, windshield wiper fluid, brake and transmission fluids, plastic trash, etc. will all make their way into area waterways which would be further degraded by frequent and extensive salting during winter. Also, the sheer scale and building sizes in this proposed development would also make it visible (and audible) from most trails in the forest if not from low Earth orbit. The light pollution from the center would light up one of the last dark corners in Marple.
How many grocery stores do we need?
Any use for Don Guanella site should not include redundant businesses found 400 yards away
Eleven supermarkets lie within three miles of Don Guanella, with several more just beyond that radius. Three of these supermarkets are less than a mile away. One of these – Acme – is just 400 yards from Carlino’s proposed supermarket (the graphic above illustrates just how unneeded a new supermarket is at Don Guanella). Also unneeded are redundant commercial uses. Much of what Carlino proposes already exists next door in Lawrence Park Shopping Center, which, by the way, has several access points: one large exit/entrance onto Sproul; one out the back onto Parkway Blvd/Lawrence Road; and smaller entrances off Sproul and from the Home Depot parking lot. Carlino’s oversized plan would actually be bigger than Lawrence Park Shopping Center which, like Carlino’s proposed use, occupies 43 acres but with only 373,000 square feet of commercial and retail space.
Carlino will no doubt object to our analysis and conjure frightening “by right” scenarios to make his proposal seem more palatable by comparison. However, Carlino builds shopping centers not houses or institutions. If they sold their interest in Don Guanella at a profit to another developer for say $35 million, that other developer would still have to deal with a community already galvanized to protect all of the Don Guanella forest. Also, any “by right” development would need to build around the many environmental constraints on the property like steep slopes, wetlands, two streams (one of which is most likely “high quality,”) and a mature forest, all of which not only have protections in Marple’s ordinances, but in Pennsylvania law as well. This decreases the perceived buildable acreage significantly and, therefore, makes it harder to recoup the initial purchase cost. With Bruce Goodman’s debacle fresh in everyone’s mind, it seems improbable that another developer would make the mistake of proposing some other massive use for Don Guanella. Perhaps the highest hurdle for a by right development is absolute lack of any sewer capacity in the nearby Radnor-Haverford-Marple sewer line. Every township which links to it has imposed a moratorium on new connections, so any new connections would need to be made more than two miles away, an extremely expensive proposition.
Carlino may also argue that they need to build this gargantuan shopping center in order to save the majority of the forest, but that ignores the fact that $15 million would still need to be raised by the county, township, and school district to save part of the forested area, which incidentally gets smaller with each new sketch plan from Carlino. So Carlino is really offering a false choice: that we need to accept a sprawling shopping center and traffic gridlock in order to save a shrinking piece of the Don Guanella forest and trails. Thousands of area residents want to save that forest and its trails, but it should not come at such a stiff cost to our environment, property values, and quality of life.
While this is no Cardinal Crossing, Carlino’s proposal is still simply too big for Marple. The duplicative shopping destinations, the severe impact on infrastructure, the loss of mature forest, stream degradation, and the threat to our quality of life and property values make this an extremely undesirable plan. The best way forward is for Marple’s Commissioners to reject this plan and to insist on something much smaller.
What Can You Do?
Attend all meetings regarding this project. The first one is on May 21st, 2018 at 7PM at Marple Newtown Senior High School; 120 Media Line Road, Newtown Square, PA. Keep up to date on meeting times and other matters regarding the plan by visiting our facebook page and website. Also see Marple Township’s website – www.marpletwp.com (look for Sproul Road Developers Archdiocese Property on the left). You can also contact us on our “contact” page on our website.
Other things you do: Donate to Crum Creek Neighbors so we can increase our reach. Talk to as many people as you can about this. Share this article with your friends by email and facebook. If you are a Marple resident, talk to your Commissioner. If you live in Haverford or Springfield, contact your commissioners and ask them to get involved. Talk to State Representative Charlton and State Senator McGarrigle about preserving open space in the Marple area.