Mattison Estate plan moves forward

Site plan for the Mattison Estate

UPPER DUBLIN >> The Mattison Estate, a mixed-housing development on the 45-acre former St. Mary’s Villa property at Bethlehem Pike and Lindenwold Terrace, took another step forward Oct. 26.

The Upper Dublin Planning Commission voted to recommend approval, with conditions, of the preliminary and final land development plan to the township board of commissioners.

The plan by Lindenwold Residential — a joint venture of Guidi Homes, Endeavor Properties and The Goldenberg Group — includes 354 residential units: 32 twins, 72 townhomes and a 250-unit senior complex.

Under a Mixed-Use Residential – Historic District zoning amendment and map change for the property from institutional to MRH, the plan is permitted as a conditional use, which was approved in May.

Under the plan, Lindenwold Castle, the stone wall, gatehouses, part of the lake and other historical structures are to be preserved. The 2-acre lake will be reduced in size — a bone of contention with residents of Lake Drive — and the dam removed, with the natural streambed re-established.

Among 32 conditions imposed, the developer is to: make structural improvements to the stone wall along Bethlehem Pike and Lindenwold Terrace; submit plans for preservation of the historical items, including financial responsibility for upkeep; and provide a supplemental source of water for the lake.

Richard McBride, the developer’s attorney, said the Preservation Alliance will work with KSK, a consultant hired by the township, to ensure preservation of the historical structures, a source of water to augment the pond “to a certain extent” has been identified, and the wall facing Villa Drive will be reduced to 13 feet, he said.

Planning commission Chair Mike Cover said he wanted confirmation on the plans for the stone wall around the property and the castle, noting a difference between preservation and restoration.

“I want you to rebuild the wall at the failed locations …. It can’t be patched,” he said.

“The site wall called for reconstruction of failed areas,” responded John Cluver, an architect for the developer. “I don’t think it’s necessary to rebuild it entirely.”

“I disagree,” Cover said, citing “soil too high” putting stress on the wall and no indication of a plan to put ports in the wall. “It needs a complete rebuild along Bethlehem Pike.”

“We’re giving up a lot and you’re getting the benefit of that. I want restoration, not preservation. It would burden [future] residents” of the development, he said.

Township Engineer Tom Fountain said he had received a report from the developer’s structural engineer that “refers to a uniform plan to install drainage … and remove overburden stress on the wall. All parties talk about restoring failed parts of the wall, but do not say how much,” he said.

“I also want details of what you’re doing to the castle. Will it have new windows?” Cover asked.

The castle windows “are being retained,” Cluver said.

Turning attention to the lake, Tom Johnston, a biologist hired by the developer, showed a plan with a 1-acre pond surrounded by about 2 acres of wetlands and explained how water would be diverted from the stream being re-established and a pipe carrying stormwater off Lake Drive.

A previously existing pipe connection with Loch Alsh Reservoir has been cut off and no existing wells on the property could be located, he said.

Under normal conditions, the pond will be 4.5 feet deep, with a maximum of 5.5 feet, Johnston said.

There should be no mosquitoes due to the permanent nature of the pond, he said, and while algae “can’t be completely ruled out,” it would die off and become part of the sediment.

“The system represents the best reuse of a lake that is no longer able to feasibly be reconstructed,” Johnston said.

“To me it’s just an overt accommodation that I think takes a lot away from the property,” said planner Paul Halpern.

Responding to questions about the senior living center, Kelly Andress, president of Sage Senior Living, which will operate the facility, said patients for the memory care unit will come from both within the facility and outside community. Employee shifts will possibly be 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., and 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., she said.

Planners also asked who would own the castle and how the multiple homeowners associations would work together to preserve the historical elements on the site in perpetuity.

McBride said an agreement would be drawn up “including roads and details of the restoration aspect,” and “the cost for the castle and walls will be escrowed upfront.” A preservation document will “deal with maintenance going forward,” between the owner of the senior center, the castle and the homes, he said.

“The castle will be owned by an independent entity,” McBride said. Initially the senior care operator and Aquinas Realty will have offices there.

Leonard Poncia, president of Aquinas Realty Partners, is also associated with the developer.

Township Solicitor David Brooman said eventually there will be “like uses, but the occupants are likely to change. The zoning ordinance could not be violated.”

McBride did not provide a dollar figure for the historical preservation, saying, “When Preservation Alliance signs off on the plan, it will be given to multiple contractors and the township will have to approve.”

“The preservation easement will cover the full exterior and part of the interior” of the castle, not the additions to it, Brooman said.

Several residents opposed to the plan reiterated past concerns regarding traffic and density.

“The traffic is too much now,” Summit Avenue resident Julia Watt said. “With this it will continue to be overcrowded.”

Lake Drive resident Vanessa Klein asked the township to consider making Lake Drive one way, “so there are not a lot of cut-thrus,” and asked why a public trail from Loch Alsh to Cedar would go behind their homes.

“The traffic impact will be significant,” a Cedar Road resident said. “There’s too many structures for that area.”

“The zoning was approved with the idea of independent living,” Lake Drive resident Ginny Vitella said. The senior living center with memory care “doesn’t follow the zoning.”

“They’re still not telling us the amount of escrow,” she added. “I don’t trust it.”

After going over waivers requested, the planners voted to recommend the plan, subject to conditions, one being “that the wall on Bethlehem Pike be restored and a plan submitted to that effect.”

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