Planning Commission

This is the official blog of the Montgomery County Planning Commission.

Apr 11

Banking in a World of Mobile Communication

Posted on April 11, 2017 at 8:50 AM by Michael Stokes

The expansion of communications technology has created dramatic changes in the way we manage our finances.  Secure online access to our banks enables everyone to perform a variety of financial transactions at any time, and in any place.  Bank of America estimates that their active mobile banking users have grown from about 12 million in 2012 to over 21.6 million in 2016.  No doubt that number will be even higher in years to come.  They further estimate that deposits at their banks have dropped by 50% over the past 5 years due to mobile access.  Mobile banking enables people to not only check account balances, but also allows clients to receive notifications, actively manage their investments or get loans with a few clicks of remote devices.   In the future even more mobile banking options will be available.

With all of this remote access to handle our financial needs, the question arises: “ Do we need banks?”  Ironically over the past few years, several new bank branches or financial centers as they are now called have been proposed in the county.  Many of these new financial centers are taking on a refreshed image, far different from cold, monolithic, and marble-floored banks of the past.   These financial centers are designed to be open, modern, vibrant and colorful spaces with various client friendly amenities.  Some financial institutions are even including non-traditional features such as coffee bars in their financial centers to attract patrons.

Financial centers are also being designed to integrate into other commercial environments such as grocery stores and larger retail spaces.   These co-located financial centers are designed to blend into existing retail spaces and work seamlessly with other retail and service providers.

Despite the changes in our financial world brought about by new communications technology, it appears that there will still be places in our communities where people work to ensure that the financial needs of local residents and businesses are well managed.  The bottom line here is that the old definitions of banking may no longer apply, and the past design standards governing financial institutions may need to be rethought.   But even with all of the communications technology, financial institutions will continue to have a physical presence in our communities, yet, there will be changes in the way they look and function.
Banks of the past, cold and unfriendly

New banks are more inviting and incorporate sustainable design

West Norriton Citadel Bank
New banks use unique architectural design to attract attention and welcome clients

Feb 07

Fitness Center Growth in Montgomery County

Posted on February 7, 2017 at 6:22 PM by Michael Stokes

The fitness center growth in Montgomery County has been significant over the past decade.  Now every resident has a variety of fitness centers to choose from located near their home or place of work.  As a result, maybe this will be the year that we all fulfill our new year’s resolutions to live a healthier lifestyle.

Fitness centers largely grew up out of an exercise revolution that started in California in the late 1930’s.  Early recreation pioneers such as Jack LaLanne first opened exercise gyms for the public.  Now fitness centers are proposed in all shapes and sizes tailored to meet the exercise needs of everyone.

Basically, the fitness center is a health, recreational, and social facility geared towards exercise, sports, and other physical activities. It may be a for-profit commercial facility or institutional center such as a YMCA.   

The fitness center enables individuals to work out on their own or be part of an organized, group instructional program such as spinning classes, yoga, martial arts, or team sports.  Most facilities offer trainer services to help individuals safely achieve fitness goals.   A fitness center may provide outdoor activities with features such as a running track, swimming pool and sport playing fields.  In addition to providing ways to improve physical fitness,  a fitness center may also provide for social needs with seating areas, non-workout classes, a juice or snack bar, sport spectator seating, saunas, hot tubs, and day care services.  Physical therapy providers can also be collocated within a fitness center.

Fitness center buildings vary in size and design. Small facilities may only include a single room fitness area and locker rooms with a small support/administrative area.  Large facilities include gymnasiums, racquetball courts, indoor and/or outdoor pools, running tracks, food service and retail spaces, and child care.

Fitness centers are generally viewed as commercial uses located in retail districts, shopping centers or business parks so that they are convenient to their patrons.  Some fitness centers are located in repurposed industrial or retail buildings, though most large fitness centers are in new specially designed buildings.  Many fitness center users make short visits of about an hour, typically during the early morning before work, or the evening after work.  Saturday use is typically very high at most fitness centers.  To accommodate the lifestyles of their members, most fitness centers operate with long hours, seven days a week.

Local planning issues to consider in reviewing proposed fitness centers include:  traffic, building height and size, setbacks and buffers, outdoor use impacts to surrounding properties, lighting due to their often lengthy hours of operation, and accessibility by non- motorized traffic.

A former elementary school was transformed into a fitness center in
Plymouth Township

Fitness centers are open long hours to help us all keep in shape

Some fitness centers occupy retail space in shopping centers

Spring Valley YMCA III
Montgomery County has several excellent YMCA facilities providing a
variety of services

Jan 04

Looking Back at Development in Montgomery County During 2016

Posted on January 4, 2017 at 7:40 AM by Michael Stokes

Development in Montgomery County during 2016 was very robust, probably one of the strongest years in over a decade as evidenced by new construction and planned proposals submitted to our office for review. 

Certainly the biggest development trend continues to be new rental apartments.   Big apartment projects recently completed in Plymouth Meeting, the Conshohocken area, and  along the Route 422 corridor seem to be leasing up well.  Several new apartment projects are under construction in Upper Merion Township (several large ones), Lower Merion Township (several as well), and Norristown.  More should be under construction soon in Lansdale, Willow Grove, Philmont, Lower Merion Township, and yes even more in Upper Merion Township.  Clearly Upper Merion and Lower Merion Townships are the epicenters of new apartment development.   In Lower Merion Township a large riverfront apartment development on the former Continental Container Corporation plant site will eventually contain approximately 600 new apartment units which have access to Manayunk.  Several other Lower Merion Township apartment projects are proposed in the Bala Cynwyd area and in Ardmore.  Over the past year, several large cranes have been lording over more than 1,000 apartment units under construction at the Village of Valley Forge- the former Valley Forge Golf Course, located along US Routes 202 and 422.  Other apartment units in Upper Merion Township are being developed in business parks near Valley Forge Park and in Hughes Park along the SEPTA Route 100 transit line.   

Other forms of housing are also springing from the ground throughout the county with hot spots in the western end of the county within New Hanover Township (several previously approved developments are finally being built out), Limerick Township, and Upper Providence Township.   More new development is expected in western Montgomery County including large housing projects proposed in Lower Pottsgrove and New Hanover Townships.

Age qualified housing and senior care facilities are once again a big part of the local construction taking place in the county.  The most significant project is Shannondell in Lower Providence Township where several large buildings have been constructed over the past year.

This summer we saw the completion of a dramatic new link that connects the two King of Prussia malls offering a new dimension in high end retail.   A new Centre Square Commons shopping center is under construction in in Whitpain Township, and a major shopping center redo, with a new Whole Foods store, is occurring in Spring House.  Several other retail construction projects are taking place in the county to reshape other shopping centers and malls.  The large Life Time Athletic facility under construction in the Fort Washington Business Park will add a new dimension to fitness options in the county. 

The convenience store business is still hot in the county.  Royal Farms is entering the county with two new stores under construction now in Hatfield and Norristown- more will likely follow in Kulpsville and other locations.   Wawa opened another large convenience store in Cheltenham Township in 2016.  In 2017 Wawa will open its 30th Montgomery County large convenience store near Norristown and has others planned in the county.

Hotels and extended stay residential inns remain a popular development option in the county.  New hotels are proposed or under construction in the King of Prussia area, US Route 422 corridor, Plymouth Meeting/Blue Bell, and the Willow Grove area. 

Office development seems to gaining some momentum after a long quiet period.  The biggest office that we have seen for some time was proposed along the river in Conshohocken this past year. 

Industrial development is also picking up.  The new large Fedex distribution center was completed this year in Upper Merion Township.  Other industrial proposals have recently been approved in Limerick, Hatfield, and Franconia Townships.

Though institutional development may have declined a bit in the county from some of the big years over the past decade- no new hospitals or high schools- we still have seen strong activity highlighted by the new Atrium being constructed at the Bryn Mawr Hospital , elderly care facilities at Shannondell in Lower Providence Township and student housing in Abington Township.

This is just a rather scattershot overview of development in the county.  For those of you who dine on data, your feast will be served in early 2017 when we will issue reports of proposed development and projects recently completed.  The numbers will show that 2016 was a big year for development in the county.

New townhouses recently constructed in Lansdale

More senior housing being constructed at Shannondell 

An innovative housing project underway at the former Trappe High School

Lots of new apartments under construction at the Village at Valley Forge

The King of Prussia malls are now officially connected

Life Time Athletic will take work outs to another level

A new parking garage at the Lansdale Train Station