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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hays

Public is Skeptical of NSH Plans

Updated: Mar 23

With millions of development dollars pouring into Norristown over the next few years, residents came out Thursday night to ask the developer of the former state hospital grounds: What’s in this for me? 


In an open town hall, Tony Maras of Pinnacle Realty Development Corp., fielded questions ranging from housing affordability and neighborhood connectivity to sewer capacity and environmental impacts. One thing that Maras made clear is that Norristown Council members are seeking “tax rateables” – business uses that generate tax revenue – for the 68-acre parcel of land formerly owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 


“I have to meet council expectations,” he told the large audience. 


Several attendees, including state Rep. Greg Scott, noted that none of the seven locally elected representatives attended the 7 p.m. meeting. 



Mila Hayes speaks during the March 14, 2024 meeting.


How We Got Here 


Beginning around 2016, discussions between state, local, and county officials began concerning the largely shuttered Norristown State Hospital grounds. Pennsylvania gave the 68 acres of land to the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority for free. The MCRA, which still holds the land on behalf of Norristown, oversaw an open bidding process that was shrouded in mystery for months. Last December, Council announced their selection from a list of five finalists who pitched their visions for mixed use development (and a minor league baseball stadium) in a largely residential part of the municipality. 


Maras and PRDC won the prize. But for how much and under what terms? No one is revealing all those details publicly at this time. 


The Montco 30% Project filed a Right to Know request on March 11, seeking the agreement of sale reached between PRDC and the redevelopment authority. As permitted under the law, the county asked for an additional 30 days to review the request. 


Pressed during Thursday’s meeting by residents for financial details, Maras and municipal Planner Sean Turner stated that an undisclosed sum will be paid by PRDC directly to Norristown. Turner said the details will be part of the next budget cycle. 



Tony Maras of PRDC reviews land development plans for the NSH 68 acres.


Feedback on the Plan 


“It doesn’t seem like it’s community-centered,”Haylee Fry said. “What are the people of Norristown going to be doing here?” 


Plans call for a restaurant, 26,000-square-foot grocery store, daycare center, and housing. Lots of housing – just nothing below market-rate. In total, 717 units, including 282 apartments and over 400 owner-occupied townhomes are planned. 


“No one in Norristown can afford this,” said Tim Kozak, a former Norristown Planning Commission member. 


Mike Hays, of Montco 30%, said: “This property came from the Commonwealth, so it should support the common good. 


"We have enough shiny towers for Montgomery County’s Silicon Valley class – you know, the well-heeled, six-figure earners. They worked hard, good on them. But we don’t need to subsidize their dwellings. This county, and yes Norristown, needs more housing for bus drivers, teachers, social workers, grocery clerks, mail carriers – in other words – all the regular people who keep this economy going," Hays said.


Shortly after these comments, project architect Seth Shapiro rose to add his comments. He spoke both broadly of the current housing construction climate, as well as the intended buyers of homes in their development – dubbed Preserve at Stony Creek. 


“We are attempting to do (build) the missing middle (income),” Shapiro said. “We are under-supplied. We need to build and build.” 


Maras said a studio would be priced somewhere between $1,300 - $1,500. Doing the math, a renter earning less than $50,000 would be spending north of 40 percent of their income on housing. That is the definition of cost-burdened. So, the target renter is not those earning $50,000 or less. 


Next steps  


Before bulldozers can break ground, several steps need to take place. The land development plans need to go through the Norristown Planning Commission (review) and Municipal Council (approval). Each step involves public meetings and opportunities for input. Full disclosure: It seemed that Maras vacillated throughout the night, at times stating that plans are subject to change while simultaneously saying that council’s wishes are well established. 


Maras and staff promised to post a website with detailed plans and meeting information within a couple weeks.


Meanwhile, several members of the audience – including former council members – encouraged those in attendance to speak to their members of Norristown Council and let their viewpoints be heard. 




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