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New 9th Street Train Station in Lansdale Considered With SEPTA Parking Garage Next Summer

Tony Di Domizio

Thursday, August 21, 2014 • 3:55pm

Ninth Street in Lansdale is sort of an anomaly.

It begins at South Broad Street near the Hatfield Township border (which begins, naturally, at Hatfield Street) and spans about two blocks before it dead ends at a barrier, right past Shaw Avenue.  It does not pick up again until Moyer Road, where it serves as the route to the borough administration modular offices and utilities, and wastewater treatment plant.

Beyond that dead-end barrier near Shaw Avenue runs the tracks for SEPTA’s Doylestown line and a crossing.  Even farther beyond, the 116-acre property shared with Hatfield Township – known by its vernacular, the Stoltz property – that once served as the bustling home to American Olean Tile. This property is also on the radar to be possibly rezoned into mixed-use residential and industrial to make the property more attractive to developers.

That area may see a return to some bustle if SEPTA goes through with its concept of establishing a new Ninth Street train station, with as many as 125 temporary and permanent parking spaces, to deal with loss of parking and other facility issues during its 18-month construction of a proposed 209,000-square-foot parking garage and pedestrian bridge at the Lansdale train station, beginning next summer. The bridge would land on the property of Madison Parking Lot.

“We are working with the borough now to have Ninth Street as an available station, as well as expand parking at Colmar and Pennbrook,” said Andrea Reede, of Kansas City-based architectural and engineering firm HTNB, hired by SEPTA to design the garage, at Monday’s Lansdale Planning Commission meeting. “Lansdale is the busiest station on the Doylestown line. There is a strong demand to park here.”

Reede updated the commission on the upcoming project, and was accompanied by SEPTA project manager Joe Gazzini, SEPTA Director of Project Development Lou McCray, PennDOT Bureau of Aviation Director Jennie Granger, and SEPTA Deputy General Manager Jeff Knueppel.

Commission solicitor Joe Clement said the Ninth Street Station is a one-acre parcel on the edge of the Stoltz property. It came into existence as part of a stipulation agreement in 2006, where the owner had to dedicate the parcel to Lansdale for exclusive use as a station. If it is used for anything else, it reverts back to Stoltz.

The project is being completed in three phases, which includes construction of a temporary lot, a permanent lot and the high-level platform.

“Temporary parking will be in place and the platform will be there before we break ground and disrupt parking,” Reede said. “We want to put 125 spaces at Pennbrook and another 125 at Colmar.”

The team is reviewing all letters and concerns from the borough and Montgomery County Planning Commission, see what they can comply with and what can change, return to the planning commission for preliminary/final plan approval and then on to borough council.

The project will also require the zoning hearing board to approve a variance to allow 8-and-a-half-wide parking spaces versus 9-foot-wide spaces. The planning commission voted Monday 5-1 to recommend approval of the change. Member Gary Kulp was the dissenting vote and Chairman Sam Carlo was absent.

“They have a timeframe before the end of the year to get through the planning approval process,” said Clement.

Upon completion, the Lansdale train station will have a net gain of 309 spaces, Reede said. This will help deal with projected increased demand for parking at the station by 2019, as planned residential and mixed-use developments in Lansdale will boost ridership, according to SEPTA.

The Madison Lot development would also include a tower with elevator access to get to the pedestrian bridge spanning the tracks, in order to get to the parking garage in the SEPTA lot accessible from West Fifth Street.

At present, there are 590 spaces total at the SEPTA Lansdale station: 385 spaces in the rear lot off West Fifth Street, 112 spaces in the front lot off West Main Street, and 93 SEPTA-dedicated spaces in Lansdale’s Madison Parking Lot. All spaces are considered by SEPTA to be 100 percent utilized.

When the parking garage is completed, SEPTA will have 899 spaces at the train station: 681 spaces in the parking garage, 119 spaces in a new rear surface lot and 99 spaces in the front lot. The parking garage also comes with CCTV security inside and outside, perimeter fencing to keep people away from the train tracks and a security staff on the clock from open to close.

Here’s the rub: There is no guarantee that the SEPTA parking garage project will not coincide with Equus Capital Partners’ development of Madison Parking Lot into a retail-and-residential downtown focal point, complete with new parking spaces, a skateboard park and a bike police kiosk.

“There is a possibility that the construction of the parking garage and the Madison Lot could start close to one another, and that the on-ground spaces at Madison could now be lost at about the same time you’re losing on-ground parking on the other side,” said planning commission member John Chirico.

With Lansdale being the busiest station on the Lansdale/Doylestown line, a parking garage project that disrupts parking, and a Madison Parking Lot development that would also disrupt parking, is anything short of a commuters’ or shoppers’ nightmare.

“We are not meeting the full demand at the site,” Reede said.

It also means a potential headache for SEPTA and Lansdale Borough, unless something proactive takes place ahead of time.

“We absolutely know that Madison Lot is a problem for us. That’s part of what got this going in the beginning,” Knueppel said. “We are taking property at Colmar and we are also working on (more parking at) North Wales. There is a possibility for parking at Pennbrook. We know we have to be ready in time to do this.”

Average daily boardings at Lansdale last year, according to SEPTA, were 1,396. SEPTA projects by 2019 that it could reach as much as 1,700.

“We have a whole bunch of irons in the fire to make sure we keep at least the same amount of parking net total between the sites,” Knueppel said.

A parking garage was initially proposed in Equus Capital’s development of Madison Parking Lot, Kirchner said.

“As we were holding meetings, the public said they wanted more parking up closer to Main Street, and not just a garage dedicated to Madison Lot,” she said. “SEPTA said, ‘we’d rather have the garage on our side. It’s something we’ve wanted to do and we want to build a bridge to connect the garage to the community.”

At one point, Kirchner heard rumors of a tunnel or bridge connecting folks coming into town on SEPTA lines to Lansdale.

“A lot of folks didn’t quite believe (it) because we were told SEPTA didn’t have the money,” Kirchner said.

During construction, the outside edge of the SEPTA lot off West Fifth Street will stay open to vehicles. All other parking will be taken up by staging, construction and contractor parking.

Knueppel told residents that, once the garage is built and there is ample parking at the station, then SEPTA will employ strategies to make sure residents get to park on their streets and commuters are pushed to the garage. There is even talk of enforcing permit parking for Richardson Avenue and West Third Street to keep residents happy.

“They are parking in your spot because they can’t find parking at the station now,” Reede said.

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