The Manheim Township Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday evening not to endorse preliminary plans for the Belmont shopping and residential center, saying the developers tweaked a conventional shopping-center layout rather than creating the truly integrated mixed-use project the township's zoning stipulates.
"It's not an integrated development at all," commission Chairman Michel Gibeault said. "I think this is the wrong design for this site."
Matthew Creme, an attorney representing the project's backers, expressed disappointment and stressed that the commission's role is purely advisory. The vote notwithstanding, developers intend to move ahead on schedule and submit a conditional-use request to the township commissioners, he said.
The plans for Belmont call for building 350,000 square feet of retail space and 204 residential units on the undeveloped tract across the street from the Red Rose Commons shopping center near Route 30 and Fruitville Pike. The developer is R.J. Waters & Associates, based in Kennett Square.
Manheim Township enacted a new zoning ordinance last year that incorporates design considerations as well as functionality, according to township manager Michael Rimer.
The developers believe Belmont fully meets the ordinance's objective criteria for a Planned Commercial Development-1, or PCD-1, project, Creme said. The ordinance allows for subjective judgments regarding a project, but the burden is on the objector to demonstrate a project truly has critical flaws, he added.
Residents of nearby neighborhoods have expressed enthusiasm for the plans, and there has been no significant opposition, he said.
Commission member Jeff Sturla, however, accused Belmont's backers of doing the minimum possible to meet zoning standards rather than truly embracing the mixed-use concept.
He reacted scornfully when Creme pointed to Warwick Township's Shoppes at Kissel Village, an R.J. Waters project, as an example of the company's ability to achieve quality design, as defined in the township's zoning ordinance.
"If the shopping center (near) Lititz is your poster child, then I'm concerned," Sturla said. "It's exactly what we don't want."
But tradeoffs in Belmont's design are unavoidable, Creme said, dictated in part by site constraints and in part by the need to appeal to commercial tenants.
"We have to be able to market what we build," he said.
Belmont has been in development for three years, said Joseph Waters, executive vice president at R.J. Waters.