SEPTA is moving forward with plans to reimagine Ambler’s Regional Rail station

Nearly five acres of SEPTA parking lots, steps away from Ambler’s downtown, are earmarked for a transit-oriented redevelopment project.

SEPTA railroad crossing signs with cars on a road in the background.

SEPTA tracks cross Butler Pike in Ambler, Pa. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Plans to redevelop SEPTA’s Regional Rail station in Ambler, where the Lansdale/Doylestown line runs, are getting closer to a reality.

SEPTA’s board of directors recently approved the transit agency to begin soliciting proposals from real estate developers about how to transform a surface parking lot in Ambler into a public transit–oriented development.

“Everybody seems to be in agreement that the use of almost five acres of land [for] just parking is a missed opportunity,” said Kenny Starr, manager of joint real estate development at SEPTA.

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But the parking lot with 500 spaces near Ambler’s downtown is zoned as industrial land, which means there’s limits on what can be built there.

At least for now, a mixed use project—which would have residential and retail businesses—is not permitted at the site due to zoning code.

But that’s likely to change in the next few months as both Ambler Borough and the Montgomery County Planning Commission hash out changes to the zoning overlay, which would allow more redevelopment options.

Glenn Kucher, Ambler’s zoning code enforcement officer, said the community and officials both see the project as a big opportunity.

“Ambler is an older borough and it’s largely built out,” Kucher said. The developable land is in and around that train station.”

SEPTA held an open house to solicit input from the community about their ideas for the site. Ambler officials spent months on proposed amendments to the zoning code to ensure the project fits into the commercial corridor.

“Putting together the guidelines and kind of the guardrails for what can and cannot be built there I think leaves control within the Borough’s hands,” Kucher said.

There’s proposed height restrictions, exterior design rules and a public plaza in the amended zoning code proposal.

A concept rendering of plans for SEPTA’s Regional Rail station in Ambler (SEPTA)

While Ambler officials work on the zoning code, SEPTA will begin meeting with developers to select the “best design” by the end of the year. The transit agency is pushing for its network to support a car free lifestyle and be less dependent upon commuters from the suburbs to Center City and back.

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SEPTA considers the project a pilot about how parking lots with hundreds of spaces can be used more efficiently to reflect fewer riders using the park and ride.

“Once we undertake this with Ambler, other communities might be coming to us and we can work together to think about how the land can be used in different ways than just a surface parking lot,” said Jennifer Dougherty, manager of long range planning for SEPTA.

The land next to the station won’t be sold, but a long-term ground lease is expected.

“That generates a consistent revenue stream for us,” said Jody Holton, chief planning and strategy officer at SEPTA. “It also allows us to have continuing control over the property so we can look at having our services at the site too.”

There’s been no shortage of interest from real estate developers, Holton said.

“They see a big vacant space and like the opportunity by the station,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of people reach out, there’s a lot of excitement.”

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