Planning Commission

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

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

Dec 20

The Corner Drug Store

Posted on December 20, 2016 at 5:22 PM by Michael Stokes

The Pharmaceutical industry requires chain stores and independently operated stores to have a widespread geographic presence of conveniently located stores servicing the health needs of the public. In most cases, drug stores with a broad geographic presence typically have an advantage over independent stores.  Additionally, since many Americans rely upon large pharmacies as a primary healthcare source, these stores are more capable of negotiating low prescription prices with large insurance and pharmaceutical companies. 

Throughout the county, state and nation, the big three chain drug stores, Walgreens with 7,941 stores nationwide,  CVS with 7,458 stores and Rite Aid with 4,623 stores account for much of the pharmaceutical sales.  The other major pharmaceutical sales leaders are Walmart and many of the national grocery stores.  Small independent stores play a minor role in the current pharmaceutical business, though some have maintained an important community niche by loyally serving local customers.

Over the past two decades, many large chain drug stores have been developed through fee for service or self-development on long term ground leases.  It appears that the big three drug stores will generally only consider properties about 2 acres in size at prominently high volume intersections with a traffic signal and easy access.  Typically their preferred store is about 15,000 square feet in size with a corner entrance and a parking lot on two sides of the building accommodating about 60- 70 cars.  Another side of the building contains a drive-through window, while typically the remaining side would enable deliveries.  Sufficient signage on the site is another element that the major drug stores require.  In all cases, they insist on a free standing sign.  In most cases this would be a pylon sign with a LED reader board.  They also require significant building signage. 

Despite these requirements, developers of drug stores are still subject to local zoning.  Their preferred building design can be modified to reflect local architecture and site conditions.  During the review of a drug store land development, the municipality should be aware of the needs of the developer in meeting their basic business requirements while effectively ensuring that the new drug store fits into the community.  In order to locate a new drug store in a desirable location, local drug store developers can be creative in addressing local concerns.  As with many forms of development, the best solutions occur when their is productive dialogue between the developer and municipality.
Albrechts Site Award Winner 1999
Rite_Aid on Montgomery Avenue in Narberth

Audubon CVS
CVS in Audubon with preserved historic inn

CVS Broad Axe II
CVS in Broadaxe with sensitive architectural treatments on building and signage

Pennsburg Rite Aid III
Rite Aid in Pennsburg with a wall and landscaping along Main Street

Nov 25

The Ever Changing World of Food Retail

Posted on November 25, 2016 at 6:44 PM by Michael Stokes

Thanksgiving is always a great time to think about food.  Not just the food that is on your plate, but how we feed ourselves here in Montgomery County and throughout the Nation.   If you haven’t noticed it, things are changing in the way we keep our selves filled.  March 2015 was the first year in history that sales at restaurants and bars overtook spending at grocery stores, according to Commerce Department.  This is due to a number of factors including Millennials who view dining out as a social event and seek out diversity and interest in the restaurants that they choose.

Yet even with the competition from restaurants, our grocery stores keep growing.  But with this competition, expect changes. 

Like most types of retail, nothing stays the same.  Consider the changes over the last few years when we watched Genuardi’s and Clemens disappear after dominating much of the county’s grocery business for several decades.   Some of the other Philadelphia stalwarts such as A&P, Super Fresh, Acme and Pathmark have continued to shrink.  Food Lion’s Bottom Dollar brand which burst onto the market with smaller stores about 10 years ago is gone and forgotten. 

In the past decade, Walmart one of the nation’s largest grocery retailers, has supersized their Montgomery County stores to include a full line of groceries.  Other large buyers’ club stores such as Costco and BJs have opened several large stores in the county.  Likewise other retail stores such as Target have expanded their grocery retail presence.  Giant and Weis have grown largely through acquisition of former Genuardi and Clemens stores to own a large share of our grocery business in the county. But they face new competition.  Whole Foods continues to grow with new stores under construction in Lower Merion and Lower Gwynedd Townships.  Wegmen’s has opened three very large (over 200,000 square foot) grocery stores in the county in the past 10 years.  Niche grocery retailers such as Aldi continue to grow throughout the county.  Lidl, a European style grocery plans to open several stores in the county in the next few years.  And just when you think our food sales will be dominated by large corporations, we have also seen a rise in new independent food stores and coops. Don’t forget about the farmers market and farm to table businesses that are also growing.

The bottom line is that food will always be in demand, so expect it to be sold in creative ways in the future. 

Farmers' Market
Enjoying a farmers market in Lansdale 

Whole Foods in Plymouth Meeting
Wegmens in King of Prussia