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Developer Looking to Convert Pennsburg Factory into Apartments
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            A Schwenksville developer wants to convert a former Pennsburg factory into an apartment complex. On Tuesday, Lance Silver and a Pennsburg engineer appeared before the borough's planning commission for a review of his proposal to rehabilitate the former Mutual Industries C & D Battery factory into an apartment complex.

            Silver, the principal of Silver Rhino Development, recently submitted a sketch plan to the municipality to create 13 rental units in the two-story structure next to the St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church Cemetery. The developer told the commission that he has reached an agreement of sale with the current owner of the property at 300 Penn Street, Edmund Dunn, CEO of Mutual Industries.

           Dunn, with a mailing address of West Grange Street in Philadelphia, has owned the property since 1991. Its appraised value is $247,510, according to property tax information posted on Montgomery County's website. The current owner is utilizing the structure to store industrial fabrics.

            Most of the apartments will feature two bedrooms and two bathrooms, said Silver. He told the commission that nine of the units would be located on the top level, and the remaining four would be constructed on the bottom floor. After the meeting, the developer explained that the apartments will likely have an "inner city, industrial, modern feel."

            Silver's factory conversion would be his sixth residential project. Most recently, he completed a 240-unit apartment complex on 11 acres in Upper Providence.

            Frederick Schutte, appointed chair of the planning commission at the start of the meeting, expressed his support for the proposal. He said the structure has become an eyesore.

            Wayne Stevens, also a member of borough council, agreed.  "Speaking for the council, I can say this is a good idea," he said.

            Mayor Charles Shagg, the newly appointed vice chair, said he agreed that council would probably support the proposal.

            The developer will likely need to overcome some legislative hurdles before the council formally approves the plan. Cynthia D. Smith, the president of Horizon Engineering, said her client will need to address the property's current zoning -- I-Industrial -- through a zoning variance or a special exception.

            Open space requirements could also become an issue. Stevens pointed out that borough code requires developers to provide 2,000 square feet for each unit developed, which means Silver would have to come up with 26,000 square feet or a "fee in lieu of".

            During the meeting, Stevens said that could require a fee of approximately $170,000 based on a rate determined by council to be between $4 and $5 per square foot. The council member told the developer he and his colleagues were "open-minded" on the issues. He suggested that Silver get the property appraised. Stevens made sure to point out that any open space funds could only be spent on the borough's parks and open space departments.

            Parking could also provide an issue. Several commission members told the architect and the developer that the municipality may be willing to relinquish its rights to a paper street that extends from Third Street, across Penn Street, between the cemetery and factory. Construction of a private road could serve as the driveway and provide additional parking for residents, suggested Shagg. He said after the meeting that it would also provide easier access for church officials to a cemetery shed.






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