Willow Grove Train Station Likely Staying Put
The Upper Moreland Revitalization Task Force and Baker Group didn’t mince words about the results of the Train Station Relocation Feasibility Study.
At the May 9 Willow Grove Train Station Relocation Feasibility Study meeting, Ryan Furgerson started off his presentation by getting straight to the point.
“The ultimate conclusion is that it’s not feasible,” he said. “But, the important thing is how we got to that conclusion.”
Furgerson’s presentation, which took place in the Township Building was a comprehensive recap of over a year’s worth of research and public feedback gathering conducted by both the Baker Group and the Upper Moreland Revitalization Task Force. [Click here for more on the first meetings between the Task Force and Baker Group]
Laying the Tracks
Following the advice from the 2003 Revitalization Plan, the current board of commissioners asked the Task Force to proceed with a train station relocation feasibility study.
At the first public train station feedback meeting, which took place at Giant Food Store on June 23, 2011, Baker Group representatives showcased initial research that existing conditions in the downtown area of Willow Grove could benefit its revitalization and redevelopment from Transit Oriented Development (TOD), also providing the results from a market analysis determining the appropriate mix of new residential developments around the station, such as the creation of high-density residential buildings.
This first meeting only looked at the feasibiliyt of relocating the train station to a location south along Davisville Road of its current location, as was stated in the Transportation and Community Development Initiative grant. This grant paid for the feasibility study.
However, from this meeting, public feedback prompted Task Force and Baker representatives to also look at a location north along Davisville.
Also as Furgerson highlighted in his May 9 presentation, research found that surrounding Septa parking is underutilized, despite a daily ridership of a little under 500 people. Furgerson explained that many walk to the train station, and creating better ‘walkability’ would be a necessary part of TOD.
However, he also said that current Septa parking is also underutilized mostly due to inconvenient locations around the train station, which might require the construction of structured parking.
With information from the first meeting, the second public train station meeting, which took place in the Township Building on Nov. 9, 2011, gave visitors two design concepts for public feedback – two for each of the three proposed locations (one block north or south or its current location).
As for keeping the train station at its current location, one of the major pros Furgeson highlighted was keeping the historic train station building itself.
And while each concept detailed positive features and potential TOD, each also had their own drawbacks.
“The biggest thing about this process is that no one location serves all the criteria,” Furgeson said, during the presentation.
Ultimately the Baker Group found that the minimum threshold for train station development would cost approximately $21-million, with $6-million needed from pubic subsidies.
“The $6-million would be just to entice the private sector,” Todd Poole, president of the financial consulting firm 4ward Planning, said after the presentation.
Poole, who worked with the Baker Group on the study, further explained that the hope by the township may have been to provide a document that would easily encourage developers to make an investment in TOD, however, given the risk for such investments in the current economic climate, the opposite would be true.
Furthermore, as explained in Furgeson’s presentation, SEPTA, which owns the train station property, would also have to be convinced of any development.
What was Learned
“What needs to happen is a consistent vision,” Furgeson said, ending his presentation. “Only small-scale investments would be possible, then they should build on each other.”
He suggested, regardless of any immediate train station development, the downtown area of Willow Grove could benefit from TOD ideas, as described in the feasibility study, such as ‘walkability’ for pedestrians – all of which would encourage revitalization and redevelopment.
Task Force chairperson Karen Houck agreed and added that in conjunction with the nearly completed Township Revitalization plan, the train station feasibility study will prove to be a highly useful resource toward revitalization planning.
‘They’re dovetailed,” Houck said. “However, the results are not.”
She said that developing the train station won’t be the catalyst for immediate revitalization or redevelopment in the downtown area, but having one there is enough to successfully continue efforts. She added that other areas of the extended revitalization map should also be considered for development, as a way of looking at the broader revitalization goals.
In total and not counting Task Force or Baker Group representatives, over 70 people from the public came out to both sessions of Furgeson’s presentation.
The reaction was mixed.
“I’m just so relieved. I like the old station and rather it stay there and not be moved and certainly not be destroyed," Elaine Leibrandt, Upper Moreland resident, said. “And, besides, where would the money come from?”
After the presentation, Furgeson said that such public subsidies wouldn’t necessarily come from taxpayers, but through grants, which are listed at the end of the 100-page feasibility study (see .pdf above).
Another perspective suggests that the township pursue the developments described in the study, despite costs.
“They’re just focusing on the problems,” Jonathan de Jonge, a Task Force member, but was speaking for himself, said. “Whatever it is, it’s going to cost something.”
None of the comments made, however, questioned the reality of the arduous journey revitalization and redevelopment in Upper Moreland will be, as presented in the study.
“You want to get the right answer,” Tom Winterberg, a Task Force member, said. “Not the answer you’re looking for.”
Like Furgeson and Houck, Winterberg said that the Baker Group did a good job based on the paramaters they were given, and the study will become a reference for future Task Force work, providing insight into planning that can and can’t be done.
Furgeson will also present the Baker Group findings at the May 14 Community Development Meeting.
For more information visit www.willowgrovestation.com.