The showdown between Doylestown Township and developer Joe Grasso will begin anew next week.
That's when the township Planning Commission is scheduled to begin its review of Grasso's controversial plan for his 17-acre property at York and Swamp roads. To accommodate what is expected to be a larger than usual crowd, the meeting will be held at starting at 7 p.m.
Township manager Stephanie Mason predicted an extended process.
"It's a big plan to review," she said.
Grasso's plan suffered a major blow last month when Bucks County Judge Clyde Wait upheld the township's zoning regulation that limits the size of buildings on one portion of his property to 10,000-square feet. Grasso had appealed the Zoning Hearing Board's denial of a variance in 2009 to build a 12,500-square foot drug store on the site.
Mason said township staff are reviewing a new set of plans that will be unveiled at the Planning Commission meeting Monday night.
Development has been proposed for the property several times over the past two decades. It straddles two zoning districts: six acres are zoned for commercial use (C1), while the balance is zoned for light industrial use.
The township has turned down two previous requests from Grasso, a Philadelphia resident who has owned the property for six years and operates as York and Swamp Associates.
In May, Grasso's attorney, Marc Kaplin, to the board, all roughly the same as has been previously proposed in one format or another.
Under the first plan, Grasso would build a 48,000-square foot warehouse, an 8,400-square-foot day care center, a water tower and a cell phone tower on the area zoned for light industrial use. All those uses are permitted under current zoning, meaning Grasso would go through a normal land development review but not have to seek any special permissions from the township.
On the C1 portion of the property, the first plan presented by Kaplin called for a 13,000-square foot pharmacy, a 2,300-square foot bank, and a 7,000-square foot restaurant. Neither the pharmacy nor the restaurant would be permitted under current C1 zoning, said Kaplin, and would be subject to the court challenge.
While acknowledging the plan is not the preferred choice of his client or nearby residents, and is not the best use for the property, Kaplin said he would challenge the limits imposed by the C1 zoning “if this is the route we have to go.”
Under the second plan shown to the board in May, the entire site would be developed according to the C1 zoning regulations. It would include the pharmacy and bank on six acres, and a 38,000-square-feet of retail space on the 11 acres.
The third plan proposed by Kaplin calls for 63 townhouses, the pharmacy, a 10,000-square-foot retail store and a 3,500-square-foot bank.
At the May meeting, Kaplin said he would seek to overturn a portion of Doylestown Township’s Zoning Ordinance if the plan doesn't move forward. He called restrictions on developing the property “arbitrary and irrational” and threatened to sue to seek a Curative Amendment if the township continues to block his efforts.
While the C1 district permits a wide range of uses, it does not permit restaurants. And while buildings of “almost unlimited” size are allowed, said Kaplin, individual businesses are limited to 10,000-square feet.
Kaplin laid out a mythical scenario in which a developer could legally build a 5,000-square foot pharmacy, a 5,000-square-foot convenience store, and a 5,000-square foot photo store on the property but is prohibited “for some unfathomable reason” from building a 15,000-square foot CVS, which incorporates all three services.
“I’ve advised my client that neither of these two provisions are legitimate exercise of government police power,” Kaplin said in May.
Grasso, he said, “has no alternative but to move forward” and is willing to duke it out in court.
“It’s your choice,” Kaplin told the board in May. “We’ll do battle and we’ll submit something that will require a decision and it will not be up to your discretion.”
Some members of the Board of Supervisors said Tuesday night they wanted to postpone the start of the review to give more time to notify the public. But Mason said the township is up against a 90-day deadline and that more than 300 letters were sent out Friday and Monday letting people know about the meeting.