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Locals pack meeting on Hilltown 194-unit age 55+ community

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Concern over a proposed 194-unit age-restricted development compelled Hilltown residents to pack the municipal building on Monday evening.

They came for a planning commission meeting focused on the proposed residential development – dubbed the Venue at Hilltown.

Local businessman Wally Rosenthal, owner of Route 309 Furniture & Design in Hilltown, is looking to make the Venue a reality. Lennar Corporation, a Miami, Fla.-headquartered construction and real estate company, is the would-be developer of the site that lies on Swartley Road near its intersection with Route 309.

Speaking to the township’s planning commission, Hilltown resident Dale Ott outlined the worries of many of the 100 or so residents present.

Excessive stormwater runoff that could cause localized flooding was one issue mentioned. So were what Ott characterized as potential environmental hazards – fertilizers from lawns/common areas and chemicals from increased vehicles and development roadways infiltrating the nearby private drinking wells of private homes.

Ott spoke of worry over decreased property values for close-by current residents, intrusive lighting, and the need to hire more police officers and staff to protect the community.

Ott also asserted that the development’s proposed builders were toying with legal language in a proposed conditional use zoning amendment in a way that would allow for building units taller than the allowed 35-feet high. He worried the developers were also pushing to have three-bedroom units instead of what he said was the allowed two.

Ott also raised concerns that the development could introduce scores of new school children to the Pennridge School District, which could ultimately trigger tax increases with the need to hire more teachers and support staff.

“This is the wrong location and the wrong size for this kind of development,” Ott said. “It could create untold issues the community will have to tolerate and future generations will have to deal with.”

In the point/counterpoint forum, attorney Carrie B. Nase-Poust, representing the Venue, and professionals for the planned project offered their side of the story.

Nase-Poust said that stormwater controls would be put in place that conform with legally-required standards regulating runoff. Similarly, lighting would be in line with what’s allowed, and building heights will not exceed 35 feet, she said.

A planning professional for the venue emphasized that housing would be limited to buyers ages 55 and older. Federally-mandated regulations say that minors – those under age 18 – are barred from residing in such age-restricted units, he said. As such, no new children will enter Pennridge as a result of the development, while the development is poised to generate $1.2 million for the district in additional annual tax revenue, he said.

To build the Venue, zoning relief is needed, a point Ott made.

Professionals for the Venue pointed out current zoning would allow the development of more than 30 single family homes and related commercial development. Such a development would necessitate a similar increase in the police force, but with the added issue of bringing more students into the school district, as the homes wouldn’t be age-restricted, the planning professional said.

Brooke Rush, a Planning Commission member, commented that the crux of the issue appeared to be the sheer density of the development proposed.

“It’s all about density,” he said.

Ultimately, the developer will have to work up fully engineered land development plans and gain approval from the Hilltown Board of Supervisors before any building could occur. There’s no timeline for that yet.


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