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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hays

Housing Debate Intensifies in Upper Gwynedd

Emotions spilled over during Wednesday night’s meeting of the Upper Gwynedd Township Planning Commission during discussion about a proposed 60-unit affordable housing development near SEPTA’s Pennbrook station.

Supporters of the Cornerstone at Pennbrook Station zoning amendment, although outnumbered, made passionate arguments for investments in housing to support people earning moderate incomes. William Breish, of Lansdale, read from a letter co-signed by 18 organizations and individuals, including the Montco 30% Project and Here for Us.

“People at all stages of life may be finding it nearly impossible to purchase, maintain, or stay in homes that support their families and their future …. In order to have a diverse and vibrant community, we need to consider what enables that to happen: high-quality homes like the one Walters Group is providing…,” Breish said.

During my public remarks, I noted how as a substitute teacher in the North Penn School District I would relish the opportunity to move into a community like Cornerstone. The majority of the units (27) are targeted at renters earning between $40,000 and $67,000 per year. The monthly rents for these units will range from $971-$1,321, according to Kim Krauter of the Walters Group, the New Jersey-based developer.

“It’s tough out there,” I told the Planning Commission. “I’ve worked many full-time and multiple part-time jobs. We need housing opportunities for all income levels, from the barista at Starbucks to teachers to those earning well over $100,000 per year.”

Nearly half of renters in Upper Gwynedd – about 770 households – spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, Krauter said.

Meanwhile, several opponents of the Cornerstone proposal argued that the project amounts to a giveaway to people who haven’t worked hard enough or struggled as much as they did. Supporters Mark Connelly and Jeff Fields both noted during their comments that the mortgage interest rate deductions – claimed by many homeowners – amount to a subsidy for housing.

A few residents on the other side of the debate raised arguments about the potential for decreasing property values if these 60 units are built, while others warned of traffic impacts and the dangers of setting a precedent that will be repeated by future Upper Gwynedd leaders. From the rear of the meeting room, where residents spilled out into a standing-room only reception area, a couple of opponents laughed at the mention of Cornerstone having a community “clubhouse” and washers/dryers in each unit for renters. Another asked if a criminal background check will be required of applicants (it will be).

The Upper Gwynedd Republican Committee paid for a mailer to drum up opposition to the project. You can draw your own conclusions about what types of emotions and fears the detractors are trying to tap into.

By the end of the two-hour hearing, the Planning Commission decided to table their decision until next month, July 12. Secretary Kathyrn Carlson said they will consider public input before issuing their advisory opinion to the full township Board of Commissioners.

The zoning ordinance under consideration would amend the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) zoning district to allow for a development of this density, only within a half mile of the Pennbrook train station. The address of Cornerstone at Pennbrook would be 1500 Pennbrook Parkway, which borders the Light Industrial district (LI).

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