Sanatoga Village District
History & Design Standards
Sanatoga Village has historically served as a commercial and residential center of Lower Pottsgrove Township. The Village is situated in the western portion of Montgomery County, a suburban county to the west of Philadelphia. In 1994, Township officials embarked on a process to develop the High Street corridor of the Sanatoga Village into a residential and professional center. High Street was becoming a major thoroughfare to access either the Sanatoga or the Armand Hammer Boulevard exits of Route 422 for township residents or neighboring communities.
In addition, the Township was one of the fastest growing municipalities in Montgomery County in terms of residential growth. The growth provided an attractive location for businesses to convert existing residential properties for business usage. This trendy approach allowed Township officials to take advantage of what was developing, without planning or development standards. Township staff made a proposal to the Lower Pottsgrove Township Board of Commissioners to establish a village district, an overlay zone which would help the Township with land use decisions, landscape design, paving, signage, lighting, and architecture. The intent of this overlay was to retain the historic character, as well as encourage improvements consistent with the plan.
Township officials worked with the Community Design Collaborative Group of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Design standards were prepared with the help of the Board of Commissioners, Planning Commission, and an advisory committee of residents, business owners, and officials. The design standards (Sanatoga Crossroads Plan) were publishes in a handout document which stressed visual planning concepts in a very graphic way. The concepts included paving, landscaping, sidewalks, lighting, scale of building and architecture complementary to the Village.
The District, approximately two miles in length all along High Street, is entered by two stone arch bridges. The District is divided into five functional areas, each having its own special characteristics and each divided, for instance, by a main intersection or a change in use (residential to commercial).
Within the Sanatoga Village District as a whole, recommendations were made to improve pedestrian walkways. When the project started, there were no sidewalks or curbs, just dirt walking paths. Other recommendations included shared parking to reduce asphalt parking lots, consistent street trees and parking lot lighting. Design standards for parking areas should be located in the rear, where practical, and broken up with landscape islands for additional trees. All new construction would be compatible to neighboring structures placed closer to High Street, and face the main street corridor. The Township Board of Commissioners approved this plan in September of 1996.
How the District Developed
With the ordinance in hand, the Township worked with local business people, the local Chamber of Commerce and community groups. Our efforts started to pay off by not only improving the aesthetics of the Village, but also the local and regional economy and tax base. Our Village has become the regions professional center, with the new construction and conversion of historic homes to businesses.
The investors/professionals knew that by buying into the District and its high development standards, their investments would pay off in high rents and property values, as well as holding all businesses to the same high standard of development and maintenance. Because of the standards that are set by the District, we have attracted not only one of the fastest growing traffic and planning engineering firms in the state, but also numerous other professions such as doctors, attorneys, bankers, Certified Public Accountants (C.P.A.) and other business professionals who bring unique specialty shops to us. To date, the District has attracted over 300,000 square feet of new office, commercial, and retail shops providing over 300+ new jobs for Lower Pottsgrove Township. The consensus from the small businesses we talk to, is that as they grow and need additional space they want to stay in the Sanatoga Village because its where they want to be.
In the year 2000, the unexpected happened. A residential developer came to us to develop the Sunnybrook farm, a 65-acre farm right in the heart of the Village District. His plans were to build 300+ town-homes. Thoughts of traffic congestion, additional school children, and higher taxes were going through our heads; however, we sat down with the developer and explained the Village District concept and what was happening in the District.
Planned Mixed Development Ordinance
The idea appealed to the developer so much that we, the Township. Worked with him to develop a special zoned district within the Village District, and came up with the Planned Mixed Development (PMD) overlay ordinance. The ordinance, with the cooperation of both the Township Board of Commissioners and the developer, limited the number of town homes to 151 and added 240,000 square feet of office/commercial and retail to accommodate our wishes to enhance the Village District. The developer added special features such as cobblestone curbing, enhanced entrance ways with matching signs, cobblestone entrance drives, a community feature area with fountains and landscaping for public use and a walkway and park system separating the residential from the commercial area. By creating this ordinance, we created a village within a village, which will also accommodate businesses such as boutiques, restaurants and specialty shops.
To date, the Village has realized approximately fifty-nine million dollars of new investment, all of which are private monies to our community. Our only public money, approximately $257,000, went to curbing and sidewalk in the residential to professional area of the district. A service worth $15,000, cost the Township approximately $225 for the cost of materials only, because of the volunteer efforts of the AIA Community Design Collaborative group.
The Lower Pottsgrove Township Commissioners received the 2001 Economic Impact Award at the Tri-County Area Chamber of Commerces annual business awards program. The award recognized the Townships planning and economic impact on the tri-county area.
Moving Forward to the Future
The Township will continue to monitor and adopt new planning practices to attract quality business for the Village District. In order for the Village to stay competitive with other business districts, we will need to continue with our design standards, implement the recommendations set forth in the Sanatoga Village District ordinance. The ability to adopt new planning trends and business needs will help insure the future success of the Village District.
"The Sanatoga Village District has proven to be an ideal environment for growing my firm. The Township provided exceptional land development opportunities and facilitated three expansions of Traffic Planning and Design's (TPD) headquarters. TPD Has been named to the list of the 100 fastest growing private firms in the Philadelphia Region every year since we relocated to the District in 1997."
- Kevin L. Johnson, P.E., President, Traffic Planning and Design, Inc.