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2000-02-24
Montgomery Twp, PA. The Portable Kmart

Kmart already has a store in Montgomery Township, Pennsylvania. But the company feels the need to move from its old store to a new location at the Montgomery Commons. The move is of doubtful economic value to the township, since Kmart is already there at an Airport Square facility, and the move amounts to little more than musical chairs, retail style. What's more, the mall that Kmart wants to move into is not zoned to contain a 103,000 s.f. building. After all, residents note, the Acme grocery which closed last year was roughly 32,400 square feet. Kmart is trying to triple the intensity of the land use, in an area surrounded by residential property. In March of 1999, town Supervisors rejected the plan, but the developer kept coming back. The mall in question was built in 1975. It had a 90,000 s.f. Woolco which closed after only eight years. The new developer gave the mall a new name, Montgomery Commons, and invited Kmart in. But to fit the big store in, they need a zoning change from the current "shopping center" zoning to "commercial", because the present zoning limits building coverage to 15% of the parcel, and the developer wants it rezoned to 20% building coverage. "They want 20% more than they're entitled to," one Planning Commission member told The Reporter newspaper. "If we allow this, when does it stop? What good are zoning laws if we don't enforce them?" The Kmart plan is opposed by the Montgomery Place Condominium Association, whose residents clearly never bargained to be located next to a big box store. The developer has been told by supervisors for nearly a year to huddle with the residents and see what they want, but they come back instead with plans for higher fences and elevated buffers. In January, 2000, the developer unveiled an "elevated, landscaped buffer" along the rear of the building, and a "low maintenance fence" along one of the residential development's walking trails. What the developer keeps glossing over is the fact that the mall would grow from 160,000 s.f. to 231,000 s.f., and the neighbors can calculate the loss of property values all around. And although the newspaper headlines read "Residents Cool to Kmart proposal", the Board of Supervisors seems to be weary of their year long debate over the project. Remarkably, the project does not seem to have submitted a traffic study, as if that was some small detail to be addressed later. Rather than scale down the size of the building, the developer has stuck to the big version. The Supervisors will take up the project again on February 28th.

What you can do: Companies like Kmart and Wal-Mart are frequently uprooting their "old" stores and moving to bigger digs. Wal-Mart has admitted that it relocates hundreds of stores. That's why it has more than 300 buildings up for sale or lease. In this case, Montgomery gets very little from the move except an empty Kmart on one side of town, and an angry neighborhood on the other side of town. And anytime a developer has to buffer a project with fences or berms, you know by definition that the project literally has something to hide. A store more than 2 football fields in size cannot be hidden from nearby residences -- even if the sighline is blocked. Homeowners and potential buyers know the store is behind the wall, and they see the traffic gridlock everyday. Kmart is asking the town for a special zoning deal, but has very little on balance to offer back to the town.










 
 
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