Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Judge sides with Brandywine Realty Trust in challenge to Plymouth apartments

"A senior common pleas court judge sided with Brandywine Realty Trust last week when he ruled in favor of the developer, paving the way for a hotly contested apartment complex to be built within the township.

In November of last year, Brandywine filed a lawsuit against the township after council members voted down its zoning application to develop on a 20-acre lot at 134 Plymouth Road, near the intersection of Butler Pike. The developer sought a conditional use permit to build a 389-unit, mid-rise apartment complex, similar to those along the Conshohocken waterfront.

At the behest of dozens of township residents voicing opposition to the proposal, Plymouth council members threw developers a curveball when they voted to quash the apartment complex deal during a regular council meeting in early November.

Senior Judge Kent Albright opined there was no legitimate reason for Plymouth Council to deny the zoning and halt the progress of Brandywine’s plan.

“They came in last year and got a text amendment for an overlay to the office complex on that parcel,” said Council Chairman Sheldon Simpson. “When that council approved the overlay, it gave them a by-right plan. When they came in with the overlay, council denied it and had no right to deny it because they met the qualifications. They filed mandamus, (which) entitled them to legal damages for holding up the project for no reason.

“Every day they don’t build is a day for them to come back to Plymouth with damages. This is a business decision at this point. You can’t stop somebody from developing if they meet the requirements. Unfortunately for the residents, they got something they didn’t want, but our job as council is to look out for the township. By not appealing the judge’s decision, we have protected the township from litigation that could possibly cost us millions of dollars in damages.”

Township Manager Karen Weiss said the township has already spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and damages.

“The township spent $14,368 in legal fees defending the denial of that conditional use, since February — and climbing,” she said, once March and April are taken into account. She said the cost for the legal challenge will likely rise to $17,000 when all is said and done.

“Nobody wants more traffic, but when the project is built and fully occupied, the township will receive additional tax revenue. They will pay earned income tax to Plymouth Township. In the end, that’s why they prevailed in court, because they had the right to do it.”

The next steps, said Weiss, will be Brandywine’s submission of a land development plan, which will undergo a rigorous review process. It will need approvals from the Montgomery County Planning Commission and the township planning commission, and will conduct a series of traffic and economic impact studies.

“They are hoping to catch up for the lost time from the last few months,” she said.

Weiss called the project “very sustainable.” The development is rife with “green” initiatives, including plans for LED lights throughout the building, reserving 53 percent of the four-story property for open space, and using a parking garage to alleviate the appearance of open, vacant lots.

Attorneys for Brandywine did not return calls seeking comment at press time."

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