Pencoyd Bridge rehab included in Lower Merion luxury apartment proposal

This week, the developers of a Lower Merion property detailed their plans for the rehabilitation of a historic site and a bridge that spans the Schuylkill River from Philadelphia.

At the December Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association meeting, Mike Engle, engineer for the project, told WNCA members about plans for the former site of Connelly Containers, which is reached from Main Street via the Pencoyd Bridge.

Righters Ferry Associates, an affiliate of O’Neill Properties Group, seeks to build approximately 600 luxury apartments on the Connelly Containers site, which will be accessed on the suburban side via Righters Ferry Road. Also included in the plan is a renovation of the ailing Pencoyd Bridge to provide additional egress for apartment residents.

Lastly, a parking lot is planned adjacent to the Main St. movie theater complex, providing approximately 16 additional spaces for guests who wish to use the rehabilitated bridge upon its completion, when it will become an important link for the larger and ongoing Schuylkill River Trail project, 2,500 feet of which will run along the Connelly Container site.Construction is anticipated to begin in early 2013.

Linking the Cynwyd Trail with the Schuylkill River Trail 

The 593 apartments that will be located on the site of the former Connelly Container plot will be housed in two buildings, with space being dedicated underneath the buildings for parking. Currently, a vacant 250,000 sq. ft. warehouse occupies the property.

Sixty-five percent of the dwellings will be one-bedroom apartments, with the remainder being two-bedroom units.

Stephen Forster, director of public finance with O’Neill Properties, estimated the rent for the apartments to be within the $1,500 to $2,000 range, with the average price being $1,800.

Eight hundred and ninety parking spaces are included in the plan, meeting the standard 1.5 spaces per unit as dictated by Lower Merion policy.

Engle explained that the Pencoyd Bridge renovation is an important part of the project. The 680-foot long bridge will be one lane and only open to the vehicles of apartment residents. Expanding on the bridge’s built-in traffic controls, he said that between the hours of 5 a.m. and 12 p.m. the bridge will only allow residents to exit the property onto Main Street.

The bridge will have gates, with the arms controlled by key fobs. Emergency vehicles will have full access to the site. Pedestrians and bicyclists will also have use of the dedicated 8-foot wide trail that is being included as part of the bridge’s design.

“We see this as a vital link between connecting the Cynwyd Trail in Lower Merion Township with the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia,” he said. 

Residents address flooding and parking concerns 

Despite the lion’s share of the project taking place in Lower Merion, WNCA members voiced their concerns about several points of the project that could impact their community.

With the project’s close proximity to the Schuylkill River, some residents expressed concern about flooding at the site.

Referencing O’Neill Properties’ other riverside development, Engle detailed the steps being taken by developers to ensure the security of potential residents. While both the apartments and the proposed parking lot are located in flood plains, he said that the residents are informed about the hazards beginning at the lease stage.

Beyond this, an early warning system will be utilized, and procedures for evacuation and emergency towing are in place. Furthermore, USGS data dating to 1931 were consulted, and there was no evidence of the site ever flooding. The Manayunk parking area opposite the apartments was described as being “very high” above the river, and flooding was similarly unlikely.

Questions were raised about impacts on parking, but developers observed that the allocation of 1.5 spaces per unit exceeds the one to one ratio typically sought by WNCA, and said they don’t anticipate usage of the lot by residents.

Responding to residents’ concerns regard an outpouring of additional traffic on already-congested Main St., Engle said that studies conducted as recently as September that suggested that the majority of traffic – Forster said as much as 80-percent – will occur in Lower Merion.

The study suggested that at peak morning hours, 34 rights will be made from the property onto Main St., with an additional 13 lefts. During off peak hours, these numbers will drop to 17 lefts, and 7 rights.

Forster indicated that he believed that many residents will take advantage of the nearby Wissahickon Transportation Center. In addition, the reduction of bicycle traffic from Main Street via the trail will serve as an amenity to motorists, limiting bicycle and car “interactions.”

“We don’t see the bridge being used as a major access route,” said Engle.

While developers ostensibly sought approval for minor landscaping and grading for the 16-space parking spot along Main Street, no vote was taken. As the plan was already approved by WNCA’s counterparts in Lower Merion, developers said they will submit their plans for approval by Licenses and Inspections for grading and for use as a parking lot, the latter of which is allowed by right.

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