The may soon be gaining a new business for its vacant postal service building—if it can find a tenant.
Federal Realty Investment Trust, the shopping center’s owner, presented two tentative sketch plans to the Lower Merion Planning Commission on Monday night: one for a restaurant with outdoor seating, and one for a bank with two drive-through lanes. Both are options that could occupy the space where the vacant postal service building now stands.
David Joss, vice president of Federal Realty, told the Planning Commission that the company has had difficulty marketing the property to potential tenants.
“The building has been vacant for quite some time,” Joss said. “We’ve been marketing the vacant building to everyone under the sun—what we continuously hear is that the building is raised up, ... the figuration doesn’t make a lot of sense—so we’ve gotten to the point where we’re saying we’re going to look at a couple ways these retailers could come to our site.”
Joss said the company wants to get a few steps into the planning process so the property is more attractive to tenants.
“We’re getting our foot in the game here … so we can now go to retailers and say we’ve taken that first step,” Joss explained.
Federal Realty presented tentative sketch plans for a restaurant and a bank to the Planning Commission, with hopes to move both through to the preliminary planning stage despite not having a tenant for the space. Both plans were recommended for approval, but the planning commission indicated that for preliminary plan approval, a tenant would be required.
“Most people seem to prefer the restaurant plan to the bank plan, but the market will dictate what we get,” Joss said.
Both plans would involve demolition of the existing building, removal of 10 parking spaces and relocation of two existing stop signs and three parking spaces.
The bank would be approximately 4,925 square feet with two drive-through lanes. The township engineer recommended that a bypass lane also be included for cars that may try to back out of the drive-through lanes, causing traffic concerns, but Federal Realty attorney George Broseman said there is no room for a third lane.
One concern with the bank plan is traffic changes in the shopping center, Lower Merion assistant planning director Chris Leswing said.
“People use this as a road, … and with more traffic coming into the bank lanes, we’d probably get an increase in traffic,” Leswing said.
"I think a drive-through bank there is a bad idea," member Brian Hirsch said. "... If we move this plan forward, a bank will be there—because there are two banks [in the shopping center already] and one of those two banks will be in a position to take that spot and get the fancy new digs so the other one doesn’t."
Hirsch told the Planning Commission he would vote against moving the bank plan forward. "I think the restaurant in a great idea," he said.
The tentative sketch plan for the bank was recommended for approval 5-1, with the dissenting vote cast by Hirsch, and chairman Alan Ritterband abstaining.
The restaurant would be approximately 6,500 square feet, including an outdoor dining area that would serve as an extension of the shopping center plaza, making it more of a public community area, Leswing said.
Plans for a restaurant were preferred by members of the Planning Commission. Joss said a majority of the people he had spoken with also preferred the restaurant plan.
Several civic groups, while also preferring the restaurant plan overall, were concerned with the restaurant's hours of operation and the potential noise pollution a restaurant with outdoor seating might create.
Carol Strickland of the Wynnewood Civic Association and Joan Hindin of the Shortridge Civic Association both expressed concerns with the restaurant model, particularly with noise and light abatement issues.
“We’re very concerned about the hours … we’re very concerned about alcohol, outdoor music, … and the hours of pickup for the dumpsters with a restaurant use,” Hindin said. “The building is an eyesore, so it would be good to have something new there, … but make sure it doesn’t interfere with the residential character across the street.”
The tentative sketch plan for the restaurant was unanimously recommended for approval, with Ritterband abstaining.
On July 11, the plans will be presented to the Building and Planning Committee for approval.
This is not the only change proposed for the Wynnewood Shopping Center, which will see its .
Federal Realty will appear before the Zoning Hearing Board on July 12 to seek a special exception to permit a fitness club use by LA Fitness for the former Borders space (currently Affordable Home Furnishings.) Lower Merion retail coordinator Heidi Tirjan told Patch last week that Afforable Home Furnishings is on a month-to-month lease.
Leslie Greenberg of the Merion Civic Association, in a comment to the planning commission, advised them to consider how the potential presence of LA Fitness might affect traffic patterns for the shopping center.