The Chester Borough governing body held the first of two public visioning meetings Saturday morning for residents to voice their opinions regarding the long-standing debate on what should become of Larison's Turkey Farm property.
David and Frank Banisch, of Banisch Associates, prepared a slideshow with a short presentation containing background information on the property. Then they invited residents to "share [their] hopes, ideas, opinions, concerns and preferences for Larison's Corner" in an effort to "help...define the optimal future land uses for Larison's Corner."
Prior to opening up the floor for comments, David Banisch reminded the room that "[the new business is] subject to an architectural review process. Future development would go before a historic review committee to ensure compatibility with the historic architectural character of the borough."
Banisch added that if a potential developer wished to raze the building "it's subject to review by the committee, however there is no outright prohibition on the removal of historic resources in the ordinance."
The acronym Banisch Associates used to brainstorm during the public portion was SWOT, which stood for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
The strengths the group came up with to describe the property were:
- historic landmark
- high visibility
- highly marketable
- unique opportunity for gateway
- prime soils
- size (26-27 acres)
- keystone link to greenway
"It's the one corner in Chester that we have the opportunity to decide something to do with," resident Deborah Herridge said. "We have an opportunity and an important mission here. [This is] the last chance we have to put some kind of a mark and a statement as to what the center of Chester, the gateway to our town, is going to be and look like."
"Is it going to be a place where every corner is filled with places like Jiffy Lube, not diminishing that, but the importance of what is decided here cannot be taken out of context," she added. "This is the last place here that we can have any say on what's going to be done."
The weaknesses the group came up with were:
- isolated from historic fabric
- isolated from pedestrians
- view from site to surroundings
- dilapidated/"closed" sign
- negative image
- topography (hard to walk/drive to)
- no business currently operating
- site infrastructure
- mine shafts
- noisy spot
- dangerous (traffic)
- requires big money
Traffic was the biggest weakness brainstormed. However, not much could be hashed out on that front Saturday as the DOT recommendations on the property were not available by the first visioning meeting.
"It's somewhat cut off from pedestrians. It is isolated," said Ed Ng, leader of the Green Team and president of the Historical Society. "The lights at [Route] 206 have helped, but there's no visual and physical barrier de-integrating it with the historic parts of downtown."
Resident Mark Salisbury remarked that "providing the land owner an opportunity to improve the site is in everybody's interest."
Mayor Bob Davis added that another weakness is that it's a failed business site, which carries negative connotations. "This has been a property that has economically been a big negative."
However, Councilwoman Jennifer Cooper Napolitano countered that the property had been successful when the right business is there.
The opportunities listed were:
- tax money
- affordable housing
- active and recreation
- maintain heritage
- wildlife habitat
- live, work and play (mixed use)
- learn from Natirar
- reinforce main street retail
- art/craft; agritourism
- focused economic development/brand
- cultivate high money customers
- recruit inn or bed and breakfast
There were discussions of erecting a hotel, but "it couldn't be overdone." Possibly a two or three-story bed and breakfast, but "not a Marriott," Banisch said.
The threats were:
- more traffic
- loss of "country" feeling
- retail saturation/duplication
- signage overload
- not accounting for redevelopment
- not incentivizing owner enough
- failed development
- loss of historic building/fabric
- lack of transparency
Much like weakness, traffic was the biggest threat.
"Is it going to meet the needs of everyone? Is everyone going to walk out happy? No. That would be an impossible task," Councilwoman Janet Hoven said. "But we felt as a council that this was the best thing that we could do for our community."
Regardless of what the next business is, Banisch said it would be a while before the town broke ground on the next business.
"Two to three years is probably [the best guess]," he said.
There will be another vision meeting on Tuesday and there will be a follow-up meeting once that data is collected.