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Final Workshop on Comprehensive Zoning Changes Set for Thursday

by Edie Cerebi

Zoning_Code_GraphicThe third and final workshop on Cheltenham’s Revised Draft Zoning Ordinance is set for this Thursday evening.   The focus will be on Mixed-Use Districts, an important new category not part of the existing zoning code, which is very much in line with the thrust of the document’s emphasis on commercial and mixed-use development.

As in the previous sessions, Montgomery County planners Brian Olszak and Eric Jarrell will conduct a review of the current draft of the section of the ordinance on the agenda, primarily for the benefit of commissioners and staff to get up to speed on the extensive proposal.  Members of the Select Committee, who spent months reviewing public comments and refining the ordinance after last year’s series of informational meetings, also are expected to be in attendance.  They are: David Cohen of Elkins Park, a planner long active in development issues in the township and recently elected to the school board; Brad Pransky of Elkins Park, a digital technology specialist long involved in the EDTF (Economic Development Task Force) and the township’s CDC (Community Development Corporation) and just elected Ward 3 commissioner; Amee Farrell, an architect and lawyer who chairs the township Zoning Hearing Board; Bryan Havir, township manager; and Henry Sekawungu, township director of planning and zoning.

Mixed-Use Districts permit the blending of residential and commercial uses in the same area.  Based on the draft, they will be scattered throughout the township.  Some expand existing retail-oriented business districts, while others create new zoning districts that were previously zoned residential. Three separate Mixed-Use categories are proposed. All allow residential uses.

MU1 uses include restaurants, bars, galleries, theaters and bed and breakfasts.  MU1 areas include sections of Glenside, Elkins Park, Melrose Park, the School Administration building property, and all of Lynnewood Gardens.  MU2 includes small-scale retail, personal service shops, studios, and bed and breakfasts. MU2 areas include sections of Edge Hill, Wyncote, Chelten Hills, Elkins Park, Cheltenham Village, Melrose Park, and Laverock.  MU3, also identified as the Mixed-Use Development District, has non-residential uses which include a variety of retail uses, offices, research facilities, and other buildings such as hotels and theaters.  The MU3 Mixed–Use District encompasses larger properties in the township, including the Tyler property, the Elkins estate, Lynnewood Hall, the Melrose and Ashbourne Country Club properties, and the AstraZeneca property in Cheltenham Village.

Maximum building heights allowed in MU1 and MU3 districts are four stories or 60 feet for properties within 1000 feet of a regional rail station. Otherwise, MU1 building heights are limited to 45 feet. MU3 building heights vary depending on their class and proximity to the street.

Discussions in the two previous workshops, the first on residential zoning, and the second on commercial and industrial zoning and overlays, have been instrumental in clarifying language and refining various provisions in the proposed ordinance.  Topics ranged from the appropriateness of permitted uses in certain areas, density as it relates to nursing homes and continuing care retirement communities to setbacks when commercial areas border on residential areas to how to integrate the township’s Sustainability Plan into its development practices.

Commissioners and staff have sparked useful discussions based on in-depth questions on the 278-page document.  Some of these conversations have prompted the commissioners to commit to further discussion on certain provisions or to put additional thought into the policy decisions behind them.  Select Committee members have provided valuable insights and rationales for the wording of various provisions.

Thoughtful concerns also have come from residents.  Tom McHugh of Wyncote pointed out that requirements to qualify for bonuses for sustainable development made it possible for developers to actually do little to qualify for bonuses such as increased building heights and more impervious surfaces (the latter affecting storm water management).  The discussion led to a proposed revision requiring developers to meet more stringent standards before they would qualify for the bonuses.

The Select Committee, initially established by board President Harvey Portner in late 2014, is the latest work group involved in a 10-year process of creating the new zoning ordinance.  It began with the appointment of the Ad Hoc Zoning Subcommittee in 2005, which authored the original draft.  Two members of the Select Committee, Cohen and Pransky, were also on the the Ad Hoc committee.

The Thursday, Dec. 17 workshop is set for 6 p.m. at the township Administration Building.  According to Township Manager Bryan Havir, the Draft Zoning Ordinance likely will be on the Jan. 6 agenda of the Building and Zoning Committee.  B&Z will decide on next steps and the process for final resolution, he said.

Visit the township website for more information about the proposed Zoning Ordinance Revision, including the entire document and supporting maps.

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