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PREIT to Township, We Do Not Need Your Permission to Build 11-Story, 503 Apartment Building - Part 1

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

Photo Credit: Public presentation by PREIT 11/04/2020

Council President, Chris Manero sounded the alarm to residents last month via his Facebook page about a pending fight at the mall as the owner PREIT attempts to circumvent Council in their quest to build an 11-story, 503 unit apartment building consisting of 1, 2, and 2+ bedroom units. Council also took action during their September 2020 monthly meeting, instructing their Solicitor, Michael Clarke, to attend the Zoning Board Meeting when this item came onto the Agenda.

We reached out to Mr. Manero to ask what leverage or advantage sending the Solicitor to the Zoning Board give us. Mr. Manero stated "The zoning hearing board has the authority to act independently of Council, but from time to time, Council will voice its opposition to a zoning application. Having our solicitor attend the zoning meeting to share that opposition is the procedure that we follow." Mr. Manero continued, "Essentially, it is us giving our advisory opinion to the zoning board, but they can still choose to make their own decision." Mr. Manero concluded by adding, "We have previously advised PREIT that while Council is generally supportive of a mixed-use development on the property, we thought their initial proposal of five stories and 400 apartments earlier this year was too many. They have now chosen to go directly to the zoning board and seek (an) allowance of over 500."

Photo Credit: Public Post on Facebook by Chris Manero

Plymouth Meeting Mall sits on a total of 68-acres and has fallen on hard times since the retail collapse of the mall concept starting in the 1980s. Several reiterations of the property, including the addition of satellite restaurants in 2007 have attempted to revive the mall, none of the improvements has given this property the shot in the arm they were expected to deliver.

The plot of land in question is a 7- acre parcel which is currently home to the former IKEA North American Headquarters which was abandoned in 2013 and has laid dormant since. This property sits on the east side of the 68-acres and is buffered by the Turnpike, movie theatre, and Whole Foods.

Photo Credit: Public Presentation to Plymouth Planning Agency on 11/04/2020

PREIT representatives lead by Marc Kaplin of the firm Kaplin Stewart, delivered his opening statements during the November 4, 2020, Planning Agency meeting. Mr. Kaplin drew attention to sections 1100, 1101, and 200 of the current code (pictured below) to list his reason why PREIT believes they do not necessarily need Plymouth Township's permission to build this proposed project.

Mr. Kaplin explained section 1100 of current zoning allows PREIT immediate permission to build any of the items on the list including a (k) motel or motor court, (l) elderly living housing/assisted living facility, Kaplin went on to emphasize section (r) which gives permission to also build any use of the same general character as any of the above-permitted uses. Kaplin stated "We believe that an apartment building is a "use of the same general character as a motel or motor court." Kaplin further explained, "We also believe that an apartment building is a use of the same general character as an elderly housing/assisted living facility and it will be our job, next week, to go to the Zoning Hearing Board and demonstrate from the legal point of view that this provision [1100R] gives PREIT the right to build and use an apartment building on this property."

Photo Credit: Public presentation to Plymouth Township Planning Agency 11/04/2020

Mr. Kaplin continued to explain that section 200 of the code contains 2 definitions which help bolster their argument that an apartment building is of the "same general characteristic" as a motel, motor court, or elderly housing/assisted living facility. First Kaplin stated, "Let's look at the definition of an elderly housing/assisted living facility. It starts off by saying a multi-family structure, which is exactly what an apartment building is, that shall include, without limitation, and then it sets forth the normal things we would see."

Mr. Kaplin also highlighted these similarities to an apartment building with the definitions below including the use of the word "apartments" in the definition of a motel or motor court. Other aspects highlighted included the fact they both would provide sleeping accommodations, both would be open year-round and both would have a garage for parking.

Photo Credit: Public presentation to Plymouth Township Planning Agency 11/04/2020

In the final part of his argument, Mr. Kaplin cited section 1101 lays out specific development requirements for apartment buildings including parking limitations per bedroom, and even includes guidance on height for a high-rise apartment building. Mr. Kaplin asked the open question - why would these specific guidelines for an apartment building be in the current code if they were not meant to govern a high-rise apartment building.

Photo Credit: Public presentation to Plymouth Township Planning Agency 11/04/2020

This meeting was a preview of their arguments for why they can build their 11-story building which they will argue in front of the Plymouth Township Zoning Board and concerned residents on November 16, 2020, at 7pm (ZOOM MEETING DETAILS TO BE SHARED ON THE DAY OF THE MEETING HERE).

In our next part of this series, we will tell you just how much impact on traffic PREIT thinks these apartments are going to have and tell you what streets they are planning on sending this traffic to.

We reached out to PREIT for a comment on this topic but they declined to issue a statement.

PREIT was represented by:

Marc Kaplin - Kaplin Stewart

Mark Shapiro - Barton and Partners

Joe DeSanits - McMahon Associates

Dan Herman - PREIT

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