Local builders propose new Berwyn Square development around Handel’s

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A proposal to construct apartment housing and retail space around Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt is drawing both support and opposition from the community. 

Local developers Todd Pohlig and David Della Porta proposed Berwyn Square on the block bounded by Midland Avenue, Lancaster Avenue, Woodside Avenue and Berwyn Avenue. Pohlig said that the development stems from a need for housing geared toward specific groups of people in the market and from a desire to rejuvenate the area surrounding Handel’s and the multiple vacant buildings on the property.

The multi-purpose project would consist of several four-story brick buildings and an open, outdoor plaza where the Handel’s parking lot currently sits. Commercial and retail space would take up the first floor of the complex with residential apartment units occupying the higher floors. The 120 housing units created by the plan consist of one- and two-person households directed at empty nesters, divorcees and millennials who do not need or want to maintain a large home.

“I think this will fit in very well with Berwyn. It’d be a huge plus for the business district (and) be a plus in terms of the type of housing it provides, and I think it’ll have very little negative impact (on) the community — in fact, I believe it will increase property values in the area,” Pohlig said.

Overall, Pohlig believes that Berwyn Square will benefit the community. According to him, the project comes after Chester County’s 2018 Landscapes3 long-term development plan, which encourages housing diversity, accessible transportation and vibrant communities.

In the preliminary phases of development, Pohlig and Della Porta discovered some hazardous materials underneath the asphalt in the property. As a result, the developers decided to move additional parking space from underground to an extra story of the building and are seeking a zoning variance from the Zoning Hearing Board that would allow them to build above the current 42-foot limit. If the variance is granted, Berwyn Square would still need to undergo a developmental approval process.

“I think, by and large, most — and not all, (but) most — businesses support and want a project like this to happen,” said Stacey Ballard, the president of the Berwyn-Devon Business Association. “They would like to have more people because more people means that you’re going to have more patrons for your local businesses.”

Resident Scott Carpenter expressed concerns about the legal, traffic, safety and sizing aspects of the project. Several residents, including Carpenter, have formed a group called Save Easttown to spread their message.

“What (the developers) are proposing is four (stories) and a height that just is like nothing else in this area up and down up and down Route 30. It will definitely alter (the character of the neighborhood). It’s an outlier for sure,” Carpenter said. “There’s no need to build something that large. It’s just a monstrosity.”

Philadelphia lawyer Joseph Kohn represents Save Easttown.

“Zoning laws preserve the appearance and the look and the consistency of a neighborhood. Otherwise, everything can just really (become) hodgepodge,” Kohn said. “They don’t give them (variances) out like candy. You have to show a hardship and you have to show that there’s no other reasonable use or development of the land unless you get this variance.”

Having faced similar public opposition when building the Athertyn condominiums in Haverford, Pohlig said he empathizes with concerned residents.

“Nobody likes to change. And so I know down there (at Haverford), the next door neighbors in the adjacent neighborhoods were very fearful of additional traffic and how that could change the neighborhood,” Pohlig said, “and in the end, it turned out very well down there. The township now refers to it as the jewel of Haverford Township.”

The Zoning Hearing Board convened on Dec. 10 to discuss the variance and hold a public forum for residents’ concerns. The board will make a decision about the variance this week.