Daily Intelligencer – by James Boyle, Staff Writer, August 5, 2016
Officials from New Britain, Bucks county and Delaware Valley University have discussed for the past three years the plans to redevelop a stretch of Butler Avenue (Business U.S. Route 202) into a Main Street-style, walkable university town.
“There’s been a lot of talk and ideas for the Butler Avenue corridor,” said Lynn Bush, executive director of the Bucks County Planning Commission. “We are now seeing something actually happening.”
Bush highlighted two major steps that have propelled the project: the New Britain Borough Council’s July 12 approval to demolish the former Knoell factory on Shady Retreat Road and an adoption of a mixed-use zoning ordinance for the 7-acre property.
The former site of the woodworking company sits minutes away from Delaware Valley University and plays a major role in the redevelopment. Warminster based County Builders purchased the property in 2014 for $2.4 million through a subsidiary, Ashley Property Management, LP.
Representatives of the developer previously have said their plans include a three-story building with retail and office space on the first floor and apartments on the top floors. A presentation of the Butler Avenue project Wednesday afternoon gave a preview of how it would look.
Using Newtown Township’s Promenade at Sycamore and Jefferson streets as a model, the new buildings would combine residential and commercial spaces, with storefronts abutting the sidewalk and parking access in the back.
“There’s a lot of potential for this site,” said Matt Walters, a community planner with the Bucks County Planning Commission. “We encouraged a mixed-use property like the Promenade in Newtown. It will contribute to the Main Street character in New Britain.”
The Bucks County Planning Commission partnered with New Britain to create a draft plan to develop Butler Avenue between Bristol and New Britain roads. Funding for the study came from a $100,000 grant by PennDot’s Transportation and Community Development Initiative. It was presented to the public during a May meeting at Delaware Valley University and is under review by the New Britain Planning Commission. If the draft is accepted at the commission’s August meeting, it will be sent before the New Britain Borough Council for final approval.
“We’ve had a lot of input from the community groups,” Walters said. “We don’t expect any major changes. Since we started meeting with them in 2013, they have been pretty clear with their vision and where they want to go.”
The document lays out a set of building and landscaping guidelines designed to help the borough maintain its plan for a business friendly Main Street district. Besides the university village, it also includes landscaping and sidewalk suggestions for the Town Center shopping center at Butler Avenue and Lenape Drive, stretching down to Bristol Road.
A third section dubbed Historic Village sits in the middle, from Beulah Road to Lenape Drive. Sidewalk, crosswalks and pedestrian friendly lighting will connect the three sections, each separated by its own gateway that will give the borough a stronger identity, said Walters.
“We created safe boundaries for pedestrians that promote the neighborhood’s walkability,” he said. “It gives the corridor a real sense of place and let’s people know they are in New Britain Borough.”