Assets on Philadelphia’s Main Line? What You Need to Know

31 January, 2019

The Board of Commissioners in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania, is planning to revamp the township zoning code, with a targeted effective date of Summer 2019. Amongst the most significant changes impacting the development community are the reduced density and building height restrictions.

Whether you are currently invested in assets in the Township or are interested in developing on the Main Line, here’s what you need to know:

1. For projects in the immediate future, submit a tentative sketch plan application now

Submit an application that the Township deems complete prior to the changes taking effect, and preferably as soon as possible. Initiating this first step of the Tentative Sketch Plan process should vest your property rights so that your proposed project will be considered according to the current, less restrictive regulations.

2. For projects projected for 2020 and beyond, consider submitting a tentative sketch plan application now, too

Even if you don’t anticipate moving forward with your asset for several years, start the Tentative Sketch Plan process now by submitting your application. As noted above, this could afford you the opportunity to develop under current regulations. Consider that once an application is deemed complete, the Tentative Sketch Plan process can often take upwards of eight to twelve months, involving multiple reviews and presentations to the Board.

This is generally considered a more complex conceptual process as compared with other Pennsylvania towns. If you are planning for a project kick-off in 2020 or later, you should begin the process now. If approved, your application will be vested for five years under the current regulations.

3. Include more – not less – in the tentative sketch plan

Submitting a plan that maximizes the site to its fullest is more likely to give you the ability to scale back at a later date without restarting the approval process and being subject to the stricter regulations. If your approved plan changes, the Board will decide if your changes are “substantial,” thereby requiring a resubmittal.

Generally, reducing the layout as opposed to adding to it, is less likely to result in a “substantial” change classification. Of course, be certain to consult with a knowledgeable land-use attorney regarding this issue.

Even if you are unable to get a jump start on your Tentative Sketch Plan application before the zoning code changes take effect, there is still an opportunity to develop a great project on the Main Line. Engage a land development consultant, like Bohler, and land-use attorney familiar with Lower Merion Township’s development entitlement process to develop your site under the new regulations.

The Board is holding public meetings where the proposed zoning changes will be discussed and the public has the opportunity to comment.

For more information about the Draft Ordinance as well as the scheduled public meeting dates, click here.

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