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In its April 27 edition, The Philadelphia Business Journal takes a look at the Township's work to transform Route 30. The article quotes Supervisor Chair Sue Drummond and Planning Commission Chair Deb Abel.
East Whiteland Township looks to revitalize its section of Route 30
by Natalie Kostelni
An outsider driving along Route 30 between City Avenue and Route 202 may scoff at the notion that the area is one of the wealthiest in the United States and carries the vaunted Main Line moniker.
With its vacancies, mishmash of 1970s vintage strip centers, broken sidewalks — some that lead to nowhere— and lack of streetscaping, Route 30, also known as Lancaster Avenue, is neither Rodeo Drive nor Worth Avenue. Rather it’s a victim of a patchwork of zoning that crisscrosses three counties and multiple municipalities. It suffers from a lack of cohesive planning.
As a result, Route 30 never had a chance to come close to those other two sophisticated thoroughfares but East Whiteland is trying to change that along a section of Route 30 stretching between Old Lincoln Highway and Route 202.
While it’s better late than never, could there be hope other nearby municipalities will follow suit?
More activity is underway along Route 30 that could prompt just that. The Paoli Train Station is under redevelopment and will become an even stronger anchor. In Devon, several car dealerships have upgraded their buildings and an Urban Outfitter’s project on the former Waterloo Gardens property is well underway. A Target will move into a vacant Kmart and a newly built CVS has opened across the street. Villanova University’s new dorms are expected to be completed by autumn, and Bryn Mawr and Ardmore have projects that have or will revive corners along the road.
What’s different about what East Whiteland is doing is the township is looking at a swath of Route 30 comprehensively.
The effort is an outgrowth of several projects undertaken in recent years, such as a wide-ranging plan that was adopted in 2016 and a multimodel transportation study of Route 29. Municipal officials began to take a closer look at Route 30.
“We took a bus tour of the township and noticed the Route 29 Corridor was developing and moving forward but the Route 30 Corridor had been neglected,” said Sue Drummond, a township supervisor. “That hit us in the face and we started to think about what we could do about Route 30.”
When it started to analyze Route 30, Drummond and others on a newly formed Route 30 Corridor Committee saw some of its more glaring challenges. The road goes from four lanes down to three and back to four at one point. This pinch point causes traffic problems. There’s a stretch between Lincoln Court and Route 202 dotted with abandoned buildings, some rundown properties and vacant lots for sale. Progress has stalled.
“We’re looking for a way to revitalize the area,” said Deb Abel, who is chair of the planning commission who served on the committee. “It has a lot of businesses and they also would like to see a revitalization in the area. It would give them a shot in the arm and residents would like more beautification and to make it more pedestrian-friendly.”
That bus tour was a year ago and since there have been a series of analyses, meetings and input from residents and businesses. In May, a draft report is scheduled to be issued and a final report is expected to be released in June that will outline a vision for the corridor and make recommendations on how to achieve that.
“It’s been very challenging,” Abel said. “We have had countless hours from a core volunteer group and I think we have been very careful and deliberate about the ideas that will work here and the ones that won’t. It’s complicated.”
The objective is to create an identity for East Whiteland that includes a downtown catering to its 12,000 residents as well as the 50,000 people who commute and work there on a daily basis.
One addition that would go a long way to helping East Whiteland with its transformation of Route 30 would be a train station. This sumer SEPTA is scheduled to begin a feasibility study of locating a station at one of two possible sites — near Immaculata University or off Three Tun Road.
“Everone has a town around a train station,” Drummond said. “There’s no station between Malvern and Exton and when you don’t have a station, you don’t build a town. We don’t have a town.”
The township has already zoned for mixed-use development along Route 30, but developers haven’t embraced it. Instead they have applied to pursue just one of the uses when they propose projects. As a result, some of the land use planning will likely get tweaked to encourage developers to consider mixed-use projects. GMH Capital Partners is proposing such a project with a four-story apartment building with retail space on the site of the former Frazer Lanes bowling alley and an adjacent mobile home park.
“We really want to have a plan for our growing township,” Drummond said. “Once investment begins in an area, it will spur additional interest.”