A proposed mixed-income development planned for DeKalb and Airy streets in Norristown (on the site of the county-owned parking lot) has drawn ire from some residents who feel the project – touted by the municipality as a boon to Norristown's burgeoning arts-oriented redevelopment – is actually a boondoggle.
The development, proposed by Philadelphia-based Pennrose Properties LLC, is for a mixed-use, mixed-income apartment complex featuring 96 units (69 one-bedroom/loft and 27 two-bedroom apartments) and 5,000 square feet of ground-level retail space.
To proceed, the developers need zoning board approval of two variances for use and parking. That matter will come before the zoning hearing board tonight at 7 p.m. at Norristown Municipal Hall.
Council and some community leaders have been supportive of the project, which would offer state tax credit-subsidized rents on some units, as a means to lure artists and other creative types to Norristown's budding Arts Hill area, but some residents are opposed to the development, citing concerns that the development won't be as attractive to the target artist audience as the municipality and developers hope.
"Artists need huge, huge lofts," local artist and business owner Aleksandra Eigen told attendees at a recent meeting about the project, according to The Times Herald. "Artists don't have money. It is not easy to live in this town. You need to approach this project from a different angle."
In a letter to the editor about the project, local architect Doug Seiler noted that the Pennrose project "runs counter to the Norristown Comprehensive Plan* in several critical ways" – namely by taking up a huge swath of parking used by the neighboring community and adding more subsidized housing stock to Norristown (something it already has an abundance of.)
Seiler also said he believes the Arts Hill isn't currently developed enough to attract the target audience they're looking for. As Seiler puts it, "No scene, no hipsters."
Residents have launched several online petitions to oppose the project. One petition focuses on protecting the historic Montgomery County Jail. A suggested second phase of the project may impact part of the historic property, though a representative of the developer told council at a recent meeting that their intention was historic preservation and Pennrose would only proceed with public support. A second petition focuses on opposing the Pennrose development directly. The two petitions have garnered almost 400 signatures so far. Residents opposing the project have also created a Facebook page, Norristown Nudge, to coordinate their efforts.
Residents opposing the project are expected to speak at tonight's zoning hearing board about their concerns.
* You can download a copy of the Norristown's Comprehensive Plan in our PDF section.
Pennrose Development Project Planned for DeKalb and Airy Sparks Protest