Attorneys Present Arguments in 'Ridge Park Hotel' Appeal

Will now await decision from judge Cheryl Austin.

The attorneys for both sides of the controversial 'Ridge Park Hotel' development proposal made their case before judge Cheryl Austin in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Tuesday, and must now await the judge's decision.

Attorney Craig Robert Lewis argued on behalf of Preferred Unlimited, which owns the 8-acre parcel off Chemical Road, tucked between I-476 and Ridge Park Elementary School. The proposal to build an 82-room hotel was originally brought by developer Prime Hotels, and appealed to the Court of Common Pleas after the Plymouth Zoning Hearing Board rejected the application late last year.

After Prime Hotels exited, Preferred Unlimited continued to pursue the appeal, and offered a settlement to the township that Plymouth Council ultimately chose not to accept, setting up Tuesday's court date.

In his testimony, Lewis took issue with the Zoning Hearing Board's two key findings that the property did not have 500 feet of frontage along an arterial highway and is not permitted for a hotel use due to its location outside the township core, a map that effectively acts as a zoning overlay.

Lewis argued that the property did abide by the code, stating that it had access to an arterial highway on Chemical Road, and also had 500 feet of continuous frontage along I-476. The township's attorney, Bernadette Kearney, argued that Lewis may have been misinterpreting the language and should have brought the issue to the ZHB as an appeal of the zoning officer's findings, and not as a variance request.

"Each lot shall provide access to and have a minimum of 500 feet of continuous frontage along an arterial highway," Kearney said, reading from the code. "If his argument was that his interpretation of that…was that it didn't have to be one [roadway], that should have been an appeal of the zoning officer's interpretation."

On the second piece, Lewis said that while he agrees the property does not reside within the township core-- a section of the township that was specifically designated for heavy development in a 1990 comprehensive plan-- he argued that allowing a hotel would provide a minimum variance from code and a relief from hardship.

While dimensional variances are easy to measure, Lewis said, use variances are more difficult.

"If you're requesting a setback of ten feet, you demonstrate that nine feet wasn't enough," Lewis said. "However, the criteria we are seeking relief from are not so objective."

Lewis argued that the township core immediately borders the property along I-476, and thus would be minimally altered to extend one extra property. Lewis also said he believed the township core was outdated, and was originally meant to be used as a planning tool, and not a "sword."

Plymouth township solicitor Thomas Speers countered this argument by saying that the township core is a legislatively approved document that the judge does not have the power to alter, in addition to still being a relevant development plan.

"It's cut and dry-- there's a line on the map," Speers said. "What Mr. Lewis wants you to do is move the line… but that's well beyond your power and the Zoning Hearing Board's power, that's a legislative act."

In addition, Speers said he believed the original reasons for leaving the property out of the township core likely still have relevance, since the residential and educational developments surrounding it have remained unchanged. He also echoed prior arguments made by members of the township's Planning Agency by saying that the property allows for a number of uses, including manufacturing, food services, and warehouses.

Lewis argued that each of these developments would require a variance one way or another, and that they also present additional economic hardships.

"To say whether a self-storage facility could physically locate on the lot is one question," Lewis said. "Based on the size, location, and general value of property in this area, a reasonable use is not to put a 2,000 square foot office on an 8-acre property."

Judge Austin will now consider the testimony and alert both parties when her decision will be rendered.

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