New SEPTA station in Lansdale set to spur transit-oriented development

The opening of a new SEPTA station has developers and officials planning new high-density apartments over ground floor retail, full of new gastropubs, artisanal cafes and independent breweries attracting highly mobile young professionals who’ve opted out of car ownership.

Is this Fishtown or Manayunk? Nope.

It’s Lansdale, the small North Penn community best known – at least according to Wikipedia – for having a fountain with a big rock in it.

Transit-oriented development is coming to the quiet Montgomery county borough with a new SEPTA station at 9th Street poised to open in a few weeks, as construction of a large parking garage at the existing Lansdale station begins.

Officials hope the new infrastructure investments will inspire the sort of vibrant mixed-use developments that will help the borough’s small downtown go from sleepy to exciting. “We’re hoping,” says Lansdale Borough Manager, Jake Ziegler, “to put a different, much more active face on the Borough.”

The new station is set to open sometime in October or November, says SEPTA Deputy General Manager Jeff Knueppel. The project will cost the transit agency just $3.8 million to build a simple platform and shelter on the Lansdale/Doylestown Regional Rail line. Construction began in the spring and there will be room to expand the platform should demand warrant it. There will be 75 permanent parking spots at the station, in an adjacent lot being built by the Lansdale Parking Authority.

9th Street Station will also feature another 125 temporary spots, which will help offset the parking crunch at Lansdale Station while a new 607-space parking garage is built over a large portion of the existing 497-space lot. In the end, there will be 899 spots at Lansdale station, but first there will be a two-year parking crunch at one of SEPTA’s busiest park-and-ride stations during construction.

The added spots at the new 9th Street Station about a mile away will help alleviate parking concerns. But SEPTA and borough officials say they’re more interested in passengers walking to the new station than driving there.

9th Street Station is located next to the old American Olean Tile Company plant, which closed decades ago. The property, now owned by a developer, will be ripe for a mixed-use development once the station opens, says Ziegler.

SEPTA’s Knueppel was more direct: “This station [is] meant to drive development of that parcel.” The Borough is also extending Kenilworth Avenue to provide a better access road to the old tile factory’s 100+ acres of developable land.

Down the line at Lansdale, a new pedestrian bridge over the tracks will help link the station to a redevelopment project at the Lansdale Parking Authority’s Madison Avenue Lot. The plan is for 250 one- and two-bedroom apartments over 20,000 square feet of retail space. Some of the new parking spots in the SEPTA garage would support retail at Madison.

The idea is to create some of the amenities commonly associated with city life: walkable neighborhoods connected to transit full of restaurants and commercial retail.

“We’ve seen an increased desirability on the part of people to locate next to major forces of public transportation,” said Ziegler. “In effect, they want to live and maybe play relatively close to a center of transportation and that mobile lifestyle.”

Using transportation infrastructure to spur economic development is nothing new. The Philadelphia region is home to dozens of streetcar suburbs that cropped up along commuter rail and trolley lines. Construction of new highways in the post war period created some of the sprawling suburbs like King of Prussia. These investments can attract wealthier residents.

As Richard Florida wrote recently in CityLab, “On the supply side, investment in transit—especially substantial investment in new or refurbished transit lines—signals a large-scale commitment to neighborhood upgrading, which attracts more affluent new residents and also drives up property values.”

“What we’re seeing is the railroad and SEPTA [are] a big factor in the life of our area,” says Ziegler, adding that younger residents especially want the ability to get into Philadelphia, and more visitors want to enjoy some of the Borough’s new restaurants like Round Guys Brewery, without having to own a car.

“We’re hopefully making Lansdale Borough into a destination,” says Ziegler.

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