Exeter holds town-hall meeting for round 2 of master plan and golf course discussion

EXETER TWP., Pa. - It was round-two of community discussions Thursday evening at Reiffton School when the Exeter Township supervisors hosted a town hall meeting to review options for the town center and waterfront master plan.

Once again, more than 100 members of the community gathered to see a presentation on the master plan and voice their opinions and concerns to the supervisors.

Unlike last time, which featured an overwhelmingly vocal disapproval from residents, the opinions were more mixed this time around.

Residents in attendance were first greeted by an apology from the township's manager, John Granger, for how the previous meeting went.

"I'm new here, and last meeting, I was not fully prepared to embrace the culture of the township," said Granger, explaining that the primary focus of the whole master plan is economic development.

Pete Simone, from the architectural firm Simone Collins of Norristown, Montgomery County, presented a nearly identical presentation as last time, sharing highlights of a demographic statistical analysis and mapped visuals to areas of proposed development.

Population projections estimate a nearly 9,000-resident increase to the township over the next 15 years.

Asking residents to question, "What is Exeter's identity," Simone also reminded them that this and future meetings are for ideas, revisions and adaptations regarding the plan.

Simone's presentation of the master plan can be found on the township's website.

A highlight of the presentation that differed from the previous meeting included a deeper breakdown of the preliminary plan, particularly of the area referred to as "town center" along Perkiomen Avenue.

Town center stretches from the vacant, former Giant location in the Promenade Exeter Plaza shopping center on Perkiomen Avenue, extending east through the Shelbourne Square shopping center.

Introducing pedestrian or bike routes covering the length of the town center would be in the primary phase of the plan.

The plan calls for slightly more than 680,000 square feet of retail space, with 621,000 square feet coming in the form of already vacant retail space.

Listening to ideas from the last meeting of wanting medical offices in the township, the preliminary plan includes more than 100,000 square feet of office space.

Other highlights of the preliminary plan include a hotel, community center and new movie theater, the last of which may be featured in a promenade-style town center at the Boscov's East shopping center.

Moving east to the central part of the town center plan, the area that includes the golf course, Simone mentioned that maybe the golf course would stay as it is.

Other options explored would be development of the western edge of the golf course or the area where the driving range exists.

The eastern portion of the town center plan is the area including and surrounding the Shelbourne Square shopping center. Market analysis showed that that would be a viable spot for a Costco or Sam's Club type of place.

Continuing development outside of the 422 town center, preliminary plans also include development of the Schuylkill River waterfront along the southern edge of the township. A riverside trail could be developed connecting future green spaces that are the current Trout Run Complex and Pioneer Crossing Landfill.

Simone said that riverfront development would happen after the bulk of the project, and at a "much slower" pace.

After presenting the town center and waterfront plans, Simone was interrupted by an audience member who demanded to know more details about what is happening with the golf course and wanted to talk about more immediate plans considering the high number of senior citizen residents who were in attendance.

Simone responded that the market study was being revised to consider the senior citizen perspective, including the prospect for a senior living community. He reiterated that plans are "still in a very fluid stage."

Township resident Maureen Gipprich said the golf course should be preserved if the township would want to look to attract senior citizens.

"I think that the golf course and the property that goes with it is the most beautiful thing in this township," she added.

Many residents who voiced opinions sited that they understood the "live" and the "play" of the plan's "live, work, play" mantra, but that they weren't seeing the "work" aspect, particularly in the form of high-paying jobs available in the township.

The plan received some accolades from residents, as well.

Resident Charles Wilson said he was impressed by the plan and thanked the board for embarking on the planning endeavor.

"If you don't plan for it, you have no control over anything," said Wilson, directing his comments toward those in attendance.

Supervisor Lisa Vanderlaan tried to convey how the township is losing money on the golf course property and hopes to dive into the numbers further at a future meeting.

"The numbers don't lie," Vanderlaan explained. "We would be negligent not to put all the options on the table."

The supervisors revealed that a hotel has already expressed interest in developing on the driving range portion of the golf club.

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