June 19, 2018
Hundreds of residents turned out for a presentation and got a bottle of Wegman's water instead
Anyone attending Carlino’s “open house” in Cardinal O’Hara’s makeshift sauna had to be impressed by how much money and effort went into the extravaganza, the sole purpose of which was to “hard sell” the community a regional shopping center that will create havoc on Marple, Springfield, and Haverford roads. The event backfired, though, with hundreds of area residents expressing anger at Carlino for their bait and switch. They saw Carlino’s trade show for what it actually was: an underhanded way of heading off public anger that would otherwise have been expressed at the previously planned auditorium-type meeting at Marple Newtown High. Their last minute change of venue and format to an “open house” (after our flyer and article went out) enabled Carlino to control their message by isolating community members in small groups. As one observer noted, “someone voicing an objection in an auditorium meeting would be heard by everyone in the room, but at Carlino’s open house no one would hear it.” The event also doubled as an information harvesting operation with Carlino collecting email addresses and phone numbers from residents – under the guise of a raffle – in order to have trained employees pitch them later on accepting a 47 acre regional shopping center which would be eight acres bigger than the entire Springfield Mall complex and parking lot.
Several hundred vehicles pack the enormous Wegmans parking lot (on two sides of the building) at noon on a Saturday in Concordville. This large shopping center has TWO major three lane roads – Route 1 and Route 202 – to exit onto but it's about 15 acres smaller than what Carlino wants to build in Marple. Marple, by the way, would have just one exit/entrance road to handle traffic from 36 stores/uses over and above the Wegmans, a four-story medical office building, 150 senior living units, a four-story storage facility, and nearly 2,600 parking spaces. Tens of thousands of vehicles would be added to the current 33,000 average daily load which already backs traffic up from Route 1 to the Depot, to pick just one choke point. Add to this nightmare the many funeral processions entering the cemetery across the street.
Would you want to live anywhere near this?
Marketing the monstrosity
Carlino’s full court press has come in the form of full page newspaper ads, two mailers sent to every Marple resident, and a corps of spokespeople insisting that Delaware County taxpayers don't have the right to oppose something that would adversely affect their quality of life. Carlino's mailers, ads, and spokespeople continue to assert the same tired distortion that they “need to build a big shopping center in the front so they can save the back," that tax revenue would be temporarily diverted to pay for the land. What Carlino is not telling us is that they can build much smaller and the taxing authorities could simply increase the term of the tax revenue diversion.
They're also not telling the community that our county government could be doing much much more than it has been to save this forest and thereby minimize what gets built on the school site. Similar large land preservation projects are done all the time next door in Chester County which has spent more than $200 million on open space protection, directly contributing towards the preservation of more than 50,000 acres (out of 136,000 total acres of preserved land in the county). Yet that county government hasn't required their townships to pay back open space funding in the form of absurdly large shopping centers (which is not to say that townships haven't contributed towards acquisitions and easements). In other words, Chester County hasn't forced its residents to accept a lower quality-of-life in order to protect open space. Keeping school populations in check and cars off roads has paid off in spades, too, as Chester County's taxes are 25% lower than Delco's. It seems self evident that Delaware County Council should follow Chesco's example and at the very least let Delaware County voters decide if they want an open space bond initiative placed on the ballot.
In addition to false choices, Carlino is making bad comparisons. Their newspaper ad compared Haverford Reserve with what they want to do in Marple. Like the false choice they've been offering us, they offer up an example illustrating exactly the point we're trying to make. It's true that 100+ acres were set aside, but Haverford greenlighted 300+ houses and condos on 47 acres, adding about a thousand residents to an already overpopulated township and causing more congestion on Darby Road which has terrible choke points at Eagle and Route 320. In some ways, Haverford Reserve is just as bad as what Carlino wants to do in Marple. However, instead of contributing to population density, Carlino would burden our area's already congested roads with tens of thousands of new vehicle trips from all over the region. Don’t let Carlino misdirect your eye with bad comparisons, false choices, or threats to cut down the forest.
Haverford Township approved several hundred houses and condos on land they bought for cheap. They could have preserved so much more without adding roughly one thousand new residents to the township. Carlino's ad compared this monstrous orange to their huge apple.
Because we live in a county with no open space program (which every other suburban Philadelphia county has), we have acknowledged for a long time that some part of the front might need to be developed. But 47 acres is outrageous and would quite drastically impair the quality of life of tens of thousands of people. There's another option which continues to be ignored by Carlino and their angriest boosters and that is a smaller 20 acre commercial center of, say, 200,000 square feet. Assuming again a range of $30 to $40 per sq. ft, this would gross them lease fees ranging from $6 million to $8 million – EACH year. And this would be mostly profit if they required “triple net leases” in which their tenants pay all maintenance and utility costs – plus property taxes – over and above the actual lease payment. The open space would naturally still need to be purchased by the county, township, state, athletic organizations, and possibly private foundations.
Yet despite the pot of gold still to be had even from a smaller development, Carlino is still making not-so-veiled threats to cut the entire forest down. For example, Peter Miller, president of Carlino Commercial Development said on CBS 3 that “if we don’t get the support of the community for that plan, we will pursue whatever is available under the current zoning.” This again presents that false choice between accepting a massive regional shopping center or having the forest destroyed with a “by right” plan. Clearly, Carlino’s people assume the community is not savvy enough to recognize the other option of a smaller shopping center more appropriately sized for our congested area. What’s more, a smaller plan would still make Carlino much more money than the so-called “by right” because a smaller center would generate permanently recurring revenue while houses would make just a one time profit, assuming they could even make back their initial purchase cost.
How much would Carlino stand to make under the current proposal? If they’re allowed to build the monster, they would gross probably between $11.5 million and $15 million in lease fees each year, assuming a typical lease fee range of $30 to $40 per square foot and 380,000 sq. ft. of commercial (a large percentage of this would be pure profit). This gross doesn’t include other revenue from other uses on the site which are not factored into the total commercial square footage of the center. Don't be taken in by Carlino's crocodile concern for open space. This is about one thing only: profits – huge profits.
A galaxy of stores
This public document shows that Carlino wants 36 stores, in addition to the Wegmans, a four story medical office building, a four story self storage facility, and 150 "senior living" units. Anyone who cares about Marple's quality of life should be adamantly opposed to this unnecessary commercial density.
Carlino wants to burden our already congested area with a shopping center 8 acres BIGGER than the entire Springfield Mall complex.
With their threat to build the “by right,” the Carlino group is ignoring the massive community opposition that would erupt and the long legal battle that would ensue. We are dead serious about protecting the forest and the many environmental constraints on the property like steep slopes, wetlands, two streams, and a very large, very old section of woods make that land very difficult to develop. What's more, we have some very committed supporters willing to fund a team of certified environmental professionals and other consultants to fight in court any “by right” plan they submit. If this does go that way, we plan to invoke the Pennsylvania Environmental Rights Amendment (Article 1, § 27) as the Beaver Valley Conservancy just successfully did in Common Pleas Court in their fight to save Beaver Valley from 162 houses (proposed for 270 acres in one-house-per-acre zoning). Not only have lower courts shown a willingness to enforce the Environmental Rights Amendment, the very environmentally-inclined PA Supreme Court has cited Article 1, §27 in two recent decisions.
See our analysis of Pennoni’s “capacity study” and their overestimation of what could be built at Don Guanella. When all the environmentally constrained areas are considered, more than 60 houses are eliminated from Pennoni's estimate, leaving fewer than 100 houses. Ignoring these constraints and the actual zoning allowances, Carlino somehow believes they could get approval to build 200+ houses.
It’s important to recall what the Carlino people told us when we first met with them two years ago: “they didn’t want to fight the community.” That promise is long forgotten as they now make threats to cut down the forest if the community doesn't let them ruin Marple's quality of life with a massive regional shopping center.They assured us for more than a year that their plans would be about the size of the Don Guanella Village; then in December they showed us substantially upscaled plans after we had just posted support for the earlier plans. Surely, deceiving us and the community counts as “fighting the community," right?
We should note that we were never happy with that earlier plan and told them so (because of the obvious traffic impact). We asked Carlino’s employees repeatedly for more than a year for estimates on what the “daily average vehicle trips” would be but they never provided that information. Instead they gave us some hieroglyphics showing indecipherable “peak load” numbers. Clearly, their intention all along has BEEN to fight the community and maneuver Marple into accepting a huge regional shopping center. They certainly maneuvered us into promoting their original plan. “Save Marple Greenspace supported our plan” is something we’ve heard repeatedly from Carlino and their spokespeople.
in an already heavily congested part of the county, Carlino wants to build something more than TWICE the size of the Drexeline Shopping Center complex. Note: the area bounded by the red line is 22 acres, which includes the apartments next to Drexeline.
To see how preposterously-sized Carlino’s regional shopping center is for eastern Delaware County, take a look again at how it compares to others in the area. As we mentioned, Carlino’s “Marple Town Center” would be eight acres bigger than the entire Springfield Mall complex. It would also be:
Would you say these places are small? Hardly. Yet, at 47 acres, Carlino’s regional shopping center would be bigger than all of them. It would be the second largest retail shopping center in Delaware County (as far as we can tell) and would be more than 1/3rd the size of another well-known regional shopping center: the King of Prussia Mall complex (134 acres).
Just another Saturday afternoon in Marple. This is a "before" pic. For the "after" pic, we'll have to wait until Carlino adds tens of thousands of new vehicle trips to the mess. Believe your own eyes, not Carlino's traffic magicians who claim they will make all this disappear by adding another traffic signal to Sproul.
We should again clarify Carlino’s claim that they would preserve 161 acres of the forest. If Carlino goes to settlement with the diocese, there is nothing legally stopping them from selling that land to someone else or submitting a plan to develop more of the site. They could even log the forest and sell the lumber (assuming the township didn't stop them in court). Developers’ promises are not legally binding. However, assuming some legal contract is signed between the county and Carlino, any land that gets saved will have to be purchased by the county, township, state, an athletic organization, and possibly private foundation money. But there’s been no movement that we know of – despite assurances by Carlino – towards the county agreeing to purchase the land. Essentially, Carlino is not saving anything, so don’t let them massage you into thinking they need to “build big in the front to subsidize the purchase of the back.”
Another fallacy being pushed by Carlino and their spokespeople is that “they’re building on just a little bit more” than the Don Guanella Village footprint, claiming that it’s 38 acres in total area. This is wrong on two counts. First, Google Earth puts the size of the Village at 34.6 acres (with a margin of error of less than 1/100th of one percent). The three acre difference between what Carlino says it is and what Google clearly shows it to be might not sound like much, but a big box store or strip of stores could be snugly nestled on a plot that size. It’s about the size of the Shoppes at Sproul Plaza (with the Wawa).
Also, the actual 12+ acre difference between what Carlino wants and the actual size of Don Guanella might not sound like much, either, but it is roughly the same size as the shopping center at Route 3 and Springfield Road (with the Pep Boys, Planet Fitness, Citizens Bank, Redbox, A.C. Moore, and the abandoned Giant supermarket). That’s not “a little bit more” by any rational standard.
Carlino says they're just adding "a little bit more" to the size of the their proposal. Here's what that looks like: The abandoned Giant shopping center at Springfield Road and West Chester Pike is about 13 acres (the area within the polygon). The 12 acre difference between the actual Don Guanella Village site and their larger proposal is roughly equivalent to this large shopping center.
Peter Miller and Brian McElwee stood up at the earlier O’Hara prep meeting (before the gymnasium “open house”) and spoke of the “private property rights” they and the Archdiocese have and spoke like it’s their Constitutional right to destroy a community’s quality of life. What about the rights of area residents? What about the rights of property owners whose home values would fall as every possible cut-through street in the area is inundated by thousands of new daily vehicle trips? What about the right to not have an enormous shopping center dropped in your community? What about the right to not have your neighborhood flooded with light pollution and noise? What about your right to not have your roads further congested by a very wealthy corporation? Carlino's claimed right to build a regional shopping center presupposes that residents in the area have no rights, that the community can be transformed into a regional shopping mecca without its consent.
As the development of the Don Guanella property is probably the most important quality of life issue to ever face Marple Township (and neighboring townships like Springfield, Haverford, Upper Darby and Upper Providence), the choice for the Marple Commissioners is clear. To get the rezoning they need, Carlino must significantly scale down the size of their commercial center. There would be no undoing the permanent damage to our community and quality of life if it’s approved.